Michelle Obama began her international, 12-stop book tour Tuesday night at the United Center, appearing with Oprah Winfrey before an enthusiastic crowd.
The former first lady talked about everything from piano lessons and washing socks to crying on an airplane the day her family left the White House and President Donald Trump moved in.
“When I got on the plane, I sobbed for 30 minutes,” Obama recalled. “I think it was just the release of eight years trying to do everything perfectly.”
Obama said she turned to her husband, who had just become a former president.
“I said to Barack, ‘That was so hard, what we just did. That was so hard.” She said she didn’t mention that episode in her book.
The evening was billed “an intimate conversation.” But thousands filled the stadium. And Oprah was the interlocutor.
The crowd of 14,000 roared as Obama stepped onto a stage at the sold-out event, which seemed part talk show, part political rally and part rock concert, complete with $35 Michelle Obama T-shirts emblazoned with her face and the title of her just-released memoir, Becoming. Family pictures of Barack Obama and their children flashed on a screen over her shoulder as she spoke.
She also talked about learning how to play the piano on a rickety one and her surprise at seeing her first piano that was in good condition.
“You mean there are perfect pianos out there?” she recalled thinking. “I didn’t even know about it.”
Michelle Obama didn’t know black kids who skied or Jack n Jill until she went to Whitney Young. #IAmBecoming— Natalie Y Moore (@natalieymoore) November 14, 2018
Becoming describes Obama’s upbringing on Chicago’s South Side and her transition to college at Princeton University. As she does in her book, she recounted Tuesday being raised in a family that struggled economically — but with parents who encouraged her to be successful. She says her story is a part of the American story, noting her working-class South Side roots.
Obama didn’t criticize Trump directly at the event despite direct criticism of him in her book. And when Winfrey, who selected “Becoming” for her influential book club, introduced Obama she referred to the divisive political climate, also without directly naming Trump.
“So many people are feeling uneasy… afraid of the impending darkness,” Winfrey told the audience. “But you all being here tonight is a testament to the light.”
It’s not an end game. Being a better self. #IAmBecoming— Natalie Y Moore (@natalieymoore) November 14, 2018
The memoir, officially released Tuesday, is already expected to sell millions — it sped to the top of Amazon.com’s best-seller list throughout the weekend, and on Monday, Barnes & Noble announced that pre-orders were the highest for any adult book since 2015.
On the eve of the event, Obama spoke with students at her alma mater, Whitney Young High School, and later visited the adjacent Seminary Co-op Bookstore to sign copies of her memoir and meet with the public.
The tour that started in Chicago moves on to Los Angeles, Washington, Detroit, Paris and London, and other U.S. cities, wrapping up next month in New York City.
Tens of thousands of people purchased tickets to Obama’s United Center appearance — paying from just under $30 to hundreds or even thousands of dollars for VIP packages. No tickets are available online for some stops.
Although some fans have complained about the high cost, 10 percent of tickets costs are being donated to local charities, schools and community groups.
Here’s how Chicago reacted to the book release.
Click play above to listen to excerpt from the event, and follow WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore’s night at “An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama” on Twitter at @natalieymoore. You can also listen to Michelle Obama’s one-on-one interview with WBEZ’s Natalie Moore here.
Associated Press contributed to this report.