Philip Weiss’s 2008 blog post, “Obama’s Dark Side,” which I quoted on Wednesday in my discussion of Obama’s shabby treatment of his former literary agent, Jane Dystel, raises a serious question about the president’s character. For those who missed it:
As a writer, I am keen on reading acknowledgments, and that’s something else that struck me about Obama’s book: the acknowledgments, contained in his introduction, are very skimpy. . . .
I’m saying that Obama’s stingy about sharing credit. The most egregious instance of this is his description of taking a friend to the play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, by the poet Ntozake Shange. Obama quotes three passages from the play, 18 lines in all. He does not say the name of the play or the author’s name. I only know that it’s Shange’s play because I googled a couple lines. Obama doesn’t even say it’s a play at first — but says it was “a meeting” he wanted to bring his friend to.
This is an insult to the writer whose words he’s borrowed; it goes against literary convention, and perhaps copyright law too. When you quote a writer, especially at length, you give the writer credit. There’s no mention of Shange’s name or play on the copyright page either. Weird.
It’s more than just weird. Rules about quoting published material in book writing are very strict. When I was writing my biography of Andrew Lloyd Webber, I had to pay Paul McCartney a couple of hundred bucks to quote four short lines from “Let It Be.”