Memoir by Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Evokes in Rich Detail Her Remarkable Upbringing and Early Aspirational Years
• • •
EXTRAORDINARY, ORDINARY PEOPLE: A Memoir of Family tells the story of Rice as a little girl and a young woman
trying to find her place in a sometimes hostile world—
and of two incredible parents, a family, and the inspirational people in her life who made all the difference.
• • • • •
“A personal, heartfelt memoir.” —USA Today
“A thrilling, inspiring life of achievement.”
“A frank, poignant, and loving portrait of a family that maintained its closeness through cancer, death, career ups and downs, and turbulent changes in American society.” —Booklist
Condoleezza Rice has excelled as a diplomat, political scientist, and concert pianist. Her achievements run the gamut from helping to oversee the collapse of communism in Europe and the decline of the Soviet Union to working to protect the country in the aftermath of 9/11 and promoting democracy across the globe. She was the first woman to be National Security Advisor and became only the second woman—and the first black woman—to serve as Secretary of State. But when Crown signed a two-book deal with her, the first story she wanted to tell was the one few know: that of her childhood in segregated Birmingham, her extraordinary parents, and the extended family and community that encouraged and allowed her to flourish in such challenging times. (Her political memoir will be published in early 2012.)
EXTRAORDINARY, ORDINARY PEOPLE: A Memoir of Family (on sale October 12) is a poignant and deeply personal look at Rice’s childhood in the segregated south. Against the backdrop of Jim Crow laws, emergent civil rights initiatives, and the tensions and violence that went hand-in-hand with those changes, heroes such as Rice’s parents, John and Angelena Rice, rose above the tribulations of the day. Along with family and friends, they gave the black children of their Birmingham, Alabama, community every opportunity to believe that they could rise above the social barriers to find happiness, be successful, and reach personal greatness. The book also tells the story of Rice’s formative twenties and thirties, during which she built a record of achievement that would earn her a key role in shaping history. Hers is a story that transcends politics to provide a moving example of the quintessential American Dream.
Writes Rice: “Birmingham [in the 1950s] was the most segregated big city in America, and daily life was full of demeaning reminders of the second-class citizenship accorded to blacks. Whites and blacks lived in parallel worlds, their paths crossing uneasily in only a few public places. Ironically, because it was so segregated, black parents were able, in large part, to control the environment in which they raised their children. They rigorously regulated the messages that we received and shielded us by imposing high expectations and a determined insistence of excellence.” One of their goals in doing so was to preserve the dignity and pride of their children.
John and Angelena Rice wholeheartedly shared that goal. Convinced that education was a kind of armor that would shield their daughter, they promoted a reverence for learning, hard work, etiquette, and an appreciation for the finer things. Anxious to give her a head start in life, they made what Rice describes as “an ill-conceived attempt” to send her to first grade “at the ripe age of three.” Their decision to have her begin piano lessons at that same age fared much better. When Condoleezza told her parents several months later that she needed a piano of her own, her father told her that when she could perfect the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” they’d buy her one. The next day she sat at her grandmother’s piano for eight hours, not even wanting to break for lunch. When her parents picked her up, she played the piece perfectly.
EXTRAORDINARY, ORDINARY PEOPLE is rich with such lighthearted and telling family stories, among them Rice’s first experience of elected public office (her election as family president when she was about eight years old), and the family’s nightly ritual when she was a child. (Each family member put on mouse ears to sing the theme song to The Mickey Mouse Club when it came on the air, then later in the evening they watched The Huntley-Brinkley Report together, with John commenting on each story and explaining the historical significance of big events.)
While John and Angelena passed along to their daughter their individual fondness for piano, opera, debate, and football, they weren’t able to fully shield her from the ugliness of racism. In the book, Rice recounts that one of her earliest exposures to it came when her family went downtown at Christmas time: “Only about five years old, I overheard my father commenting that Santa seemed to be treating the black children differently. The Santa in question had been putting the white kids on his knee and keeping the black children standing. ‘If he does that to Condoleezza,’ Daddy said to Mother, ‘I’m going to pull all of that stuff off him and expose him as just another cracker.’ Perhaps Santa felt the vibes because he put me on his knee and listened to my list. But I never forgot how racially charged that moment felt around, of all things, Santa Claus.”
By 1963 the situation had grown intolerable. That spring two bombs exploded in Rice’s neighborhood amid a series of chilling Ku Klux Klan attacks; months later, four young girls lost their lives in a particularly vicious bombing. When Kennedy was assassinated that fall, Rice’s reaction was not only sadness but fear, as “for black citizens of Birmingham, his murder was personally threatening.” That said, Rice’s political awakening would wait until 1968, which she describes as “one of those years that seemed to change things forever.”
When John Rice’s career shifted from preaching to education, the family moved to Denver, where Rice began college at the age of sixteen. In her junior year, she changed her major to political science, an interest ignited by one of her professors, a man named Josef Korbel (whose daughter happened to be a young lady we now know as Madeleine Albright). She continued her studies at Notre Dame, earning her master’s degree there.
While EXTRAORDINARY, ORDINARY PEOPLE goes on to chronicle Rice’s ascent from Stanford professor to provost, National Security Council staffer to National Security Advisor, it remains a family story. Threaded through the account of her professional rise is her changing relationship with her parents, who struggle with her increasing independence, their finances, and their health. Rice poignantly recounts her mother’s death from cancer at the age of sixty-one, as well as her efforts to balance her demanding career with her widowed father’s need for her. The book ends in 2000, with George W. Bush’s election as president and her father’s passing, which occurred two days after he told his beloved daughter, “I’m going home.” About a week after John Rice’s funeral, Condoleezza left for Washington to begin serving as President Bush’s national security advisor.
“My parents were determined to give me a chance to live a unique and happy life. In that they succeeded,” Rice writes. “That is why every night I begin my prayers saying, ‘Lord, I can never thank you enough for the parents you gave me.’” While still keenly missing them, Rice says, “Often it has been their presence, not their absence, that I’ve experienced.”
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers will simultaneously publish the young-adult edition of this memoir; it is titled Condoleezza Rice: My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me.
Random House Audio will produce an unabridged edition of Extraordinary, Ordinary People for release in both CD and digital formats.
EXTRAORDINARY, ORDINARY PEOPLE: A Memoir of Family by Condoleezza Rice
Crown Archetype • On sale: October 12, 2010
$27.00 • 352 pages• ISBN: 978-0-307-58787-9