Oprah: I hear you initially turned in a 900-page manuscript, written in longhand—and you still hadn't gotten to the presidency.
Bill Clinton: That's not quite true. It's really [like] two different books. My life from birth through the presidential campaign is written more like a memoir. Then from the transition [to the White House] to the end, it's a diary of the presidency. When I turned in the first part, which was more than 460 pages, my editor, Bob Gottlieb, told me I couldn't put anything else in!
Oprah: Is it true Bob moved in with you to help you finish?
Clinton: He came up here for about two days. He's an unbelievable human being and a great editor.
Oprah: With more than 900 pages, I can't imagine what in the world you cut.
Clinton: A lot of good stories. Bob said, "Look, some long books read short, and some short books read long. This reads pretty easy, so let's leave the stories in." But when I sent him the first 150 pages, he said, "This is a good story— but are you running for anything?" I said, "No, I'm done." He said, "Good—then you can't put in the name of every person you ever met." He said, "How did you have enough room in your head to remember what happened to everyone's children and grandchildren?" I said, "Man, I'm from Arkansas, and that's what we do."
Oprah: You obviously have a photographic memory. You remembered every neighbor, every encounter.
Clinton: I grew up with all these country people who were really smart but had no education. That was typical in the South at the end of the Second World War. That's what has always made me care about education. My grandmother was smart. Her sister was smarter. And my uncle Buddy? No telling what his IQ was. I bet it was 170, 180. It was spooky what he could remember.
Oprah: Let's talk about your presidency. Toni Morrison said you were the first black president. You have a way with the black community. For those who haven't read the book, explain how being in your grandfather's store in Hope made a difference.
Clinton: Till I was 4, I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather had a store in the predominantly black area of town. I'd play with the kids and just listen and look. My grandfather didn't have a racist bone in his body, which was highly unusual for a lower-middle-class white man. He and my grandmother were strongly for integrating Little Rock Central High School in the fifties. My grandfather taught me to look up to people others look down on. We're not so different after all.
Once, a conservative Republican—a congressman I had a good relationship with—genuinely asked me, "Why do black people like you so much?" I said, "We like people who like us. They like me 'cause I like them and they know it."
We Hear You!