Every night, President Obama opens a purple folder that is tucked inside his daily briefing book. The purple folder contains ten letters (emails or faxes) that have been received by the White House. These pieces of correspondence are unvetted, per Obama’s request, for this is one of the ways that he chooses to help him feel connected beyond the bubble that surrounds him as President. The letters in that purple folder range from letters that praise Obama to those that plead with him to address a particular issue to those that are scathing remarks on his work as President. Still, he reads the letters, and often, he responds to them.
Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President is a selection of ten of those ten daily letters that Obama has received throughout his Presidency. The book focuses on not simply the letters themselves, but is the story of those who wrote the letters and why they choose to write them intermingled with glimpses into the more personal side of Obama’s Presidency. To create this text, Salsow first worked with the White House Press Office, interviewed each of the writers of the letters contained within this book, garnered research from press releases, tapes of speeches, and news articles, as well as held a one-on-one interview with President Obama.
As someone who teaches writing, what I found most interesting were the discussions of what motivated people to write and the rhetorical choices they made about what they said to the President. Equally as interesting were the insights into Obama’s word choices and how he felt about the power of the written letters he received, some of which he was moved to reply to privately while others he was moved to not only reply to privately but also reply to publicly in a variety of speeches. (Saslow takes time to note which of the ten letters in this selection went on to be the focus of portions of several of Obama’s speeches regarding health care and education.
Overall, Ten Letters< is an interesting work, but I found myself wanting more from the text. I wanted to see more of the actual original letters for not all of them were reproduced in the text. The ones that were reproduced in full seemed to be the emails rather than the letters, which the letters themselves were summarized. I think reproducing the original letters as part of the text would have added to the overall text itself. I disliked the chapters that seemed to be only a telling of what the letter writer could manage to recall that he or she wrote. I suspect that I liked these chapters least because I wondered just how accurate that recollection of the letter really was.