The very private former U.S. Secretary of State reflects about her life while talking about “Extraordinary, Ordinary People,” her strikingly-revealing memoir about her childhood.

Kam Williams | 11/16/2010, 10:49 a.m.
(Photo courtesy of Crown Archetype) The very private former U.S. Secretary of State reflects about her life...

My first question is why did you decide to write a memoir focusing on your childhood, as opposed to one about your illustrious political career?

Well, I didn’t feel that I could do justice to this story of my parents and their generation, and all that they did to make it possible for me to be who I am, if I sort of just put it at the beginning of a book about my last eight years in foreign policy. I will write that book, in fact, I’m working on it now. But first, I wanted to answer the question I’m most frequently asked: “How did you become who you are?” Well, you had to know John and Angelena Rice. So, that’s what I wanted to help people do with this book.  

How hard was it to go public with so many intimate aspects of your life?

That’s an interesting question because I’m a very private person. But I felt that if I wrote this book, I had to be willing at least to talk about some of my struggles, whether in my personal life, health crises, or the deaths of my parents, because there can too easily be a perception of me that my life just went from A to Z uninterrupted, without any ups and downs, and that’s not a fair representation.  

I really appreciated how the book really, fully humanized you, because you shared so much of your personal feelings about the significant touchstones in your life.

Well, thank you. It was actually fun to write because I went back to interview people my parents had taught or who had worked with them, and I learned a lot about them that I hadn’t known.  

Rev. Florine Thompson asks, “How has the Jim Crow Birmingham experience affected your life? How has it defined who you are today? Did this make you more determined to excel? Did it foster greater drive?”

I believe that Rev. Thompson’s hit on something. My parents, I and a lot of my friends growing up in that community had tremendous drive. There was almost a sense of, “We’ll show them! We’ll show them that we can be twice as good, despite everything.” I think that was something that motivated people who could have instead been consumed by bitterness and fallen into victimhood. I chalk it up to my parents and grandparents and our whole community that we saw the situation as a challenge to be overcome rather than as something that might prevent us from succeeding.

Rev. Thompson also asks, “What role has spirituality played in your growth and development over the years?”

Spirituality and faith are at the core of who I am. I was born to deeply religious parents who were able to give me that rock solid foundation in the church and in my faith which really has served me so well.   

How so? What do you mean by that?

It’s so much a part of me that it’s almost hard to describe myself in the absence of it. I know that for me it means asking for guidance, and that in the toughest times there’s a personal savior that I can rely on. And I’m very grateful to my parents for giving me that.