Book deals are notoriously hard to land — ask just about any aspiring author — but for one former White House staffer from the Obama administration, it was shockingly easy.
Gautam Raghavan, President Barack Obama’s liaison to the LGBT community and Asian-American and Pacific Islander community from 2011-2014, had been toying with the idea of sharing the stories of what he calls “the incredible people I worked with in the Obama White House,” knowing first-hand there were lots of inspiring and diverse life experiences represented in that group.
Raghavan met an agent, Cindy Uh from Thompson Literary Agency randomly at a New Year’s Eve party. She was the former college roommate of one of Raghavan’s White House colleagues and was immediately interested in the idea.
“Her immediate reaction was, ‘I love this idea, let’s make this happen,’” Raghavan says.
The result is “West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House” (Penguin, $17). It’s out Tuesday, Sept. 25 in paperback and will be available at all major book outlets.
Raghavan, who now does political consulting work, says frustration with the current political scene had him waxing nostalgically for the people and stories he knew from his White House years. He starts the book with his own story of being at times frustrated with Obama’s evolving views on same-sex marriage, but ultimately joy in the role he was able to help play when the former president “came out” for marriage equality in May 2012.
Raghavan offers a compelling behind-the-scenes account of being summoned to Valerie Jarrett’s office the morning Obama gave his memorable interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts. He says the lack of “heads up” on the announcement, “wasn’t that unusual.”
“We figured he’d need to say something before the election, but we didn’t know when it was coming,” Raghavan tells the Blade.
Others who share their stories in the book include Rumana Ahmed, Deesha Dyer, Heather Foster, Hope Hall and 13 others. Three besides Raghavan are LGBT. Raghavan will be at Politics and Prose at the Wharf (70 District Square, S.W.) on Thursday, Sept. 27 for a reading and book signing along with a few other “West Wingers” contributors.
“It occurred to me that some of my colleagues might share my reticence about writing an entire book, but might want to tell their stories within a smaller space,” Raghavan writes.
He says most of his former colleagues were eager to participate and the project took very little arm twisting. He says one thing that stands out to him about the more mundane, day-to-day aspects of serving the administration is that personal stories really did make a difference.
“That seems very obvious — you get to know people, you empathize and care more, but it happened at a pretty significant level that comes through in a lot of the stories,” Raghavan says. “A lot of us did our best to be advocates from within.”
And via Jarrett, the project secured Obama’s blessing.
“The last thing we’d want to do is piss off the president,” Raghavan says.