HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Rachel L. Swarns

Author of American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama


  • History
  • Geneology
  • Politics
  • African American Interest
  • Women's Interest


District of Columbia

Rachel L. Swarns presents a fascinating and intriguing look at America's First Family in her new book American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama (Amistad). Swarns explores First Lady Michelle Obama's family tree, tracing her roots back to the 19th century and unveiling the stories behind her ancestors' lives. Her book has received praise from the New York Times Book Review, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly and was named one of the 100 most notable books of 2012 by the New York Times Book Review. She routinely appears at colleges and universities, book fairs and festivals, and libraries and historical societies across the country.

Based on extensive research and a wealth of interviews, American Tapestry follows the footsteps of Mrs. Obama's forbears who fought in the Civil War, endured slavery and escaped from bondage, suffered through the indignities of Jim Crow and moved north during the Great Migration as they journeyed from servitude to the White House. Through DNA testing, Swarns was also able to identify the white ancestors who had remained hidden for more than a century in the first lady's family tree. In her presentations, Swarns reveals an intimate family history as well as a collective chronicle of our changing nation.

Swarns is well-versed in the American political sphere. Since 1995, Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times, writing about everything from domestic policy and national politics, to immigration, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, and First Lady Michelle Obama. She has also worked overseas for the New York Times, reporting from Russia, Cuba, and southern Africa, where she served as the Johannesburg bureau chief. She covered the Los Angeles riots of 1992 for the Miami Herald and wrote for the St. Petersburg Times.Swarns currently lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children.

Praise for American Tapestry:

"Extraordinary... No political [book] has ever looked or sounded like this one." -- Edward Ball, New York Times Book Review

"The First Family becomes ever more fascinating-and ever more representative of the nation as a whole-in Rachel Swarns's terrific investigation into the roots of Michelle Obama. Reaching back to the Revolutionary War and moving up through the present with rich and illustrative detail, Swarns shows the ways in which Mrs. Obama's family was touched by every major shift in the nation's history." -- Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University professor and host and executive producer of PBS's Finding Your Roots

"A grand, important book that shows how American bloodlines are rarely wholly black or purely white, neither one race nor another. Nowhere is that more true than in American Tapestry, an eloquent history of the First Lady's family." -- James McBride, author of the New York Times bestseller The Color of Water

"Rachel Swarns has not only excavated, with painstaking care, the family tree that is Michelle Obama's, but, with great insight and beautiful prose, has revealed the complex, eye-opening, and disconcerting experiences that are America. This is a work of impressive historical imagination and deep cultural significance."
-- Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Nation under Our Feet

"Swarns paints a vivid, intriguing portrait of people whose struggles, losses, and triumphs speak volumes about the pull of family and the power of American endurance."
-- Los Angeles Times

"Riveting. . . . A microcosm of this country's story. . . . The real-life saga of struggle, survival, triumph and tragedy serves as an uplifting companion to Alex Haley's Roots."
-- USA Today

"Richly detailed. . . . A lushly layered portrait of the nation itself. . . .Swarns weaves a narrative in which massive social changes (slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration) and the microscopic details of DNA play equally important roles."
-- Boston Globe

"Swarns has unearthed and disseminated crucial American history here." -- The Washington Post

"Completely fascinating. . . . Swarns presents the complicated story of race in the U.S. through the prism of one family's history." -- Booklist (starred review)

"Tremendously moving. . . . Swarns provides numerous tales of heartbreak and achievement, many of which essentially make up the American story." -- Kirkus Reviews

"[A] layered, scrupulously researched, and wrenching chronicle." -- Publishers Weekly

"An engrossing book. . . . Swarns outlines the fascinating journeys taken by various ancestors of First Lady Michelle Obama -- the people who, across the generations, helped make her who she is today." -- Library Journal