Huge book tour for Michelle Obama

The former first lady's 10-city tour to promote her memoir, Becoming, is selling very well

Mrs Michelle Obama (above, with her husband Barack Obama) kicks off her tour in her home town in Chicago at the United Centre, which can seat 23,500.
Mrs Michelle Obama (above, with her husband Barack Obama) kicks off her tour in her home town in Chicago at the United Centre, which can seat 23,500.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • If you want to book a ticket, a fifth-row seat at Barclays Centre goes for US$1,256 (S$1,710).

A seat in the front row, with a "meet and greet package" thrown in, costs up to US$3,000 while a spot in the upper tiers is worth US$29.50.

The latest mega-production from music artists U2 or Beyonce?

No, it is the price of admission to see Mrs Michelle Obama on tour for Becoming (below), the former first lady's memoir which is set to be published on Nov 13.

After keeping a relatively low profile since leaving the White House last year, she is returning to the public sphere in dramatic fashion.

While other authors typically follow a circuit that may include podcast interviews and stops at the 92nd Street Y in New York and Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, she is set to embark on a 10-city tour put together by Live Nation.

The concert promoter manages about 500 artists, including Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and U2.

The tour is to begin in Chicago, Mrs Obama's home town, at the United Centre. Home of basketball team Chicago Bulls, it has a usual seating capacity of 23,500.

After wending its way through venues of similar size in Inglewood, California; Washington, DC; Boston; Philadelphia; Detroit; Denver; San Jose, California; and Dallas, the month-long run will end in Brooklyn at the Barclays Centre (seating capacity: 19,000).

On its website, Live Nation said the show would "feature intimate and honest conversations between Mrs Obama and a selection of to-be-announced moderators, reflective of the extraordinary stories shared in the wide-ranging chapters of her deeply personal book".

Because of high demand during a pre-sale period, the promoter recently added second shows in Washington and Brooklyn.

Other authors have had book tours that resembled concert types.

The late Anthony Bourdain promoted his 2016 book Appetites with a 15-city jaunt that had the chef doing stand-up-like sets at the Grand Theatre at Foxwoods (seating capacity: roughly 2,000) in Mashantucket, Connecticut, and the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco (roughly 3,000).

But there has been nothing like this. Mrs Obama's rollout is also bigger than a promotional effort undertaken by Mrs Hillary Clinton for her 2017 book, What Happened.

The former presidential candidate appeared at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago (seating capacity: 3,875) and Warner Theatre in Washington (1,875), with tickets that cost beyond US$2,000 for a VIP package.

Ms Emily Bender, Live Nation's public relations director, said 10 per cent of the tickets for each of Mrs Obama's shows would be donated to charities, schools and community groups in each city.

Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade Of Changing The World, a critique of modern philanthropy, said the Obamas should not be held to a higher standard than other former public officials who have made money after holding office.

Still, he was taken aback by the planned rollout.

"As the first African-American president and first lady, I am very wary of arguments that they should not do something everybody else was allowed to do," he added.

"But an arena with tiered seating is a powerful metaphor for everything they presumably want to destroy. What this illustrates to me is that cashing in has become our common culture in a way we don't realise. It's the water in which we're all swimming."

In June, Mrs Obama gave a sneak preview of Becoming during an interview with Ms Carla Hayden, librarian of Congress, at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans.

Mrs Obama noted that she put her legal career on hold "as my husband's ascent got faster and higher and louder".

Through it all, she said, being a mother helped her maintain a sense of self-worth.

"It is not easy to tell somebody that you are worth a lot," she added. "Especially for women. We have a hard time saying that about ourselves, that I know my worth and I can put a monetary number on it too."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2018, with the headline 'Huge book tour for Michelle Obama'. Subscribe