The “New York girlfriend” mentioned by President Barack Obama in his book “Dreams from My Father” is actually several women melded into one, according to an upcoming biography of the president by David Maraniss.
Vanity Fair adapted parts of the biography “Barack Obama: The Story” for a profile of the young Obama published today, based partially on interviews with two of his former girlfriends and their journal entries and letters from the time.
One of the women, Genevieve Cook (pictured above), was his most serious girlfriend while living in New York. Most of the “New York girlfriend” referenced in his book is based on Cook, but Cook told Maraniss some of the anecdotes were things she never experienced. The president confirmed to Maraniss in an interview that the girlfriend discussed in the book is an amalgamation of a few women, although the description of her appearance is similar to Cook’s.
In the memoir, Obama acknowledges that autobiographical work is at times imprecise. “Although much of this book is based on contemporaneous journals or the oral histories of my family, the dialogue is necessarily an approximation of what was actually said or relayed to me,” he writes. “For the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people I’ve known.”
Cook told Maraniss that one anecdote loosely tied to her in “Dreams from My Father” may have instead been an experience with a later Obama girlfriend, meant to show some of the racial issues he was considering at the time. Obama wrote in his memoirs that he fought with his “New York girlfriend,” described as white, after seeing a play by a black playwright. He writes that she “started talking about why black people were so angry all the time” and they argued in front of the theater. She said she never saw the play.
In another excerpt from the biography, Cook says she pictured Obama’s “Ideal” woman as a “strong black lady””
Obama told Cook that he sought an “ideal woman.” Cook wrote in her journal that she thought he would be drawn to “a woman, very strong, very upright, a fighter, a laugher, well-experienced — a black woman I keep seeing her as.” Later, after they have broken up, she questions in her journal whether his emotional distance had to do with his age or his upbringing.
Obama would go on to meet his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, a few years later.