The letters give a glimpse of what President Obama's life was like as a college student in New York in the 1980s.
In a new book called "Barack Obama: The Story," author David Maraniss publishes diary entries and correspondence between the president, then in his early 20s, and two ex-girlfriends, providing new insight into Obama’s life in New York City while at Columbia University.
Vanity Fair magazine published an excerpt from the book on Wednesday, in which Maraniss describes the period as “the most existential stretch of [Obama’s] life.”
The first love affair detailed in the book is with Alex McNear, who was at the time an Occidental University student and literary magazine editor. The letters between McNear and Obama centered around philosophy and literature.
“Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism — [T.S.] Eliot is of this type,” Obama wrote in one letter to McNear. “Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter — life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?”
Obama had an apartment at 142 W. 109th St. in upper Manhattan that scarcely had hot water, according to Maraniss, and he would dine at Tom’s Restaurant, which would later become the famous meeting place (known as Monk's Cafe) for the characters on "Seinfeld."
A diary kept by Genevieve Cook, whom Obama met at an East Village Christmas party in 1983 and whom he lived with briefly, was more romantic, and depicts the domestic life the two shared together.
“Today, for the first time, Barack sat on the edge of the bed,” Cook wrote. “Dressed — blue jeans and luscious ladies on his chest [a comfy T-shirt depicting buxom women], the end of the front section of the Sunday Times in his hand, looking out the window, and the quality of light reflected from his eyes, windows of the soul, heart, and mind, was so clear, so unmasked, his eyes narrower than he usually holds them looking out the window, usually too aware of me.”
In his book "Dreams From My Father," Obama described Cook as: “A woman in New York that I loved. She was white. She had dark hair, and specks of green in her eyes. Her voice sounded like a wind chime. We saw each other for almost a year. On the weekends, mostly. Sometimes in her apartment, sometimes in mine. You know how you can fall into your own private world? Just two people, hidden and warm. Your own language. Your own customs. That’s how it was.”
Cook also describes the two growing apart.
“Barack leaving my life — at least as far as being lovers goes. In the same way that the relationship was founded on calculated boundaries and carefully, rationally considered developments, it seems to be ending along coolly considered lines.”
Maraniss’s book is due out next month.