March 9, 2016
President Obama pens foreword to new Peanuts book
by Kait Howard
Barack Obama’s literary side has been on full display this past year. Following a two-part interview with Marilynne Robinson in which he discussed how literature shaped his understanding of what it means to be a citizen, the president made a show of supporting an independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday, gave his stamp of approval to Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, and even had a selection of his writings from Dreams of My Father gathered in a new book, Barack Obama’s Literary Legacy. Edward Mendelson also reminded us of Obama’s early lit crit abilities, as revealed in a letter he wrote to a girlfriend about T.S. Eliot when he was a 22-year-old college student.
Obama’s latest, admittedly more humble, literary contribution is one independent publisher’s dream come true. The New York Times’s George Gene Gustines reports that this May, Fantagraphics will publish the 25th volume of The Complete Peanuts, with a foreword by the president of the United States.
“Like millions of Americans, I grew up with Peanuts. But I never outgrew it,” begins Obama’s foreword to the volume, which picks up where the previous one off, printing every daily and Sunday strip of the series that ran from January 1999 through February 2000.
Fantagraphics has been publishing successive volumes of The Complete Peanuts since 2004, and previous foreword writers have included such big names as Garrison Keillor, Jonathan Franzen, Alec Baldwin, and Whoopi Goldberg, so for the 25th volume, they wanted someone especially important. As the company’s president and publisher Gary Groth told Gustines, the thinking was “Let’s just reach for the stars. All he can do is say no.”
The request went through CNN’s Jake Tapper, who’d written the foreword to the previous volume, and eventually it made it to the president.
It’s the latest success for a publishing project that, according to Groth, has allowed the small, Seattle-based publisher, distributed by W.W. Norton, to thrive. “We’re an independent publisher: We have no backers, no investors,” Groth told the NYT. We published the Peanuts right in the nick of time. It changed the fortunes of the company by allowing the company to continue to exist.”
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.