Condoleezza Rice Gets Personal
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Condoleezza Rice Gets Personal

In Extraordinary, Ordinary People, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chronicles her childhood in the segregated South and the devoted family that helped make her a star on the global stage. She gave LHJ a sneak preview.

Why write two memoirs?
I didn't think I could do justice to either in just one book; to the book about policy that comes next year or to this story of my family. And I really wanted to make sure the story about how I grew up and how I became who I am, in particular my parents, didn't get the short end of it. Because that's a bigger story than being a foreign policy specialist. The first one's the story of growing up in America during extraordinary times and parents who had incredible values about life and education and I didn't want that story to be shortchanged.

What's the name of the second book?
I haven't given it a name yet.

But it's not Ordinary, Extraordinary People?
[Laughs]. No but that's a good idea.

What was the most difficult or emotional chapter to write for you?
Oh, by far the chapter about my mother's death. Because my mother died so young. I was thinking the other day, I'm 55. My mother died at 61. And in an odd way, it was difficult to write about my father's death but my father was 78. He had lived a full life and experienced a lot. But I always felt that my mother's life was cut short and that was hard to write about.

Are your parents the "extraordinary, ordinary people"?
It's my whole extended family really, but my parents in particular. I remember them saying, "You can't have a hamburger at Woolworth's but you could be president some day." That's a pretty remarkable outlook to have during segregation.

What's the best advice your parents ever gave you?
I'm very glad my mother didn't let me quit piano lessons at age 10. She said I wasn't old enough or good enough to make that decision, and she was right. I remember at the time I was shocked. I did not like that my mother said those things to me. But when I got a chance to play with Yo-Yo Ma or more recently with Aretha Franklin, I thought, I'm really glad she said what she did.

Did you share notes with President Bush, whose memoirs are coming out soon?
From time to time, he's asked me whether my role in certain events was portrayed accurately. His book will be fascinating -- his perspective is different from mine -- and I think taken together with my foreign policy book, it'll give a pretty complete picture of the eight years. But no, we didn't share strategies.

Have you given any thought to how your prominence as an African American in the White House may have helped pave the way for the first black president?
I don't reflect on that too much, though the country overall has seen a huge evolution since I was a little girl in Birmingham. I don't think we'll ever be colorblind but certain steps and advances have been taken so that the color of someone's skin isn't as loaded an issue as it once was. You don't look at the color of someone's skin and automatically make assumptions of whether they can or cannot do something. That may be part of an evolution Colin Powell and myself and others have participated in.

Would you consider that you've lived a fulfilled life if you never get married or have kids?
Yeah, I will. I won't have kids [laughs] but I may still get married. But I would have lived a very fulfilled life if I had gotten married and had kids, too. But I'm very religious and I at some very deep level believe that things are going to work out as they're supposed to. The key is to be open to that and to appreciate the life that you've been given.

How long do you plan to stay at Stanford? In the book, you kept leaving.
Forever. That part of the book read as funny to me. I hadn't realized how many times I'd come and gone. I love it here. I'm a university person. I love teaching. I like the students. I love the world of ideas. A place like Stanford is not cloistered because it's the epicenter of the Silicon Valley, so you meet extraordinary, incredibly innovative people all the time. I love the sports, I love the artistic life. And it's beautiful Northern California.

Is managing a sports team still something you dream of doing?
It's the only thing that would get me to leave Stanford [Rice is a professor of political science at the university]. But I have always taken life one step at a time. When my students come to me and they've got their 10-year plan about what they're going to do when they're 31, I always say just figure out the next thing you're going to be doing, and enjoy that, do it well, and see where it leads.

You say you won't run for office -- any chance you'll change your mind?
I don't see myself as having that fire. But you never know. Like I said, it's about figuring out the next thing and seeing where it leads.