Letters of Young Barack Obama on Display at Emory University Library

This image provided by Emory University shows letters sent by then future President Barack Obama to his college girlfriend Alexandra McNear. The university is making the letters available to researchers on Oct. 19, 2017.
Ann Borden/Emory University/AP

Few of us would want the love letters we wrote to our sweethearts at age 21 released to the public. But when you’ve been president everything in the past is ripe for perusal by historians, researchers and journalists.

And so it is with the love letters of former President Barack Obama — excerpts of which have been released by Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, where the letters a young Obama wrote to then-girlfriend Alexandra McNear are now part of the collection.

The letters were written between September 1982 and April 1984, after Obama had transferred from Occidental College in Los Angeles to Columbia University in New York City. McNear remained in California.

The first letter in the collection, which the university says Obama wrote at a campus cafe, “drinking V8 juice and listening to a badly scratched opera being broadcast,” as he put it, finds Obama articulating what would become familiar themes in his later writing, feelings of not belonging and alienation (themes that many 21-year-olds might find familiar).

In September 1982, he writes of a college friend who will soon marry and a high school friend who manages a supermarket.

“I must admit large dollops of envy for both groups, my American friends consuming their life in the comfortable mainstream, the foreign friends in the international business world,” Obama wrote McNear. “Caught without a class, a structure, or a tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me.

“The only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions, classes, make them mine, me theirs. Taken separately, they’re unacceptable and untenable.”

He ends the letter, which was written on yellow-lined note paper, “I trust you know that I miss you, that my concern for you is as wide as the air, my confidence in you as deep as the sea, my love rich and plentiful, Love, Barack.”

In a November 1982 letter, Obama writes of the enjoyment he takes in his relationship with McNear, and the challenge of “forging a unity, mixing it up, constructing the truth to be found between the seams of individual lives. All of which requires breaking some sweat. Like a good basketball game. Or a fine dance. Or making love.

“We will talk long and deep, Alex, and see what we can make of this.”

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SOURCE: NPR, Brian Naylor