HMH Books & Media to Publish Obama Longtime Chief Speechwriter Cody Keenan’s Grace

NEW YORKSugar23 Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media announced today it has acquired Grace: A President, His Speechwriter, and Ten Days in the Battle for America by Cody Keenan, President Barack Obama’s longtime chief speechwriter.

Grace author Cody Keenan on Air Force One making some final edits to President Obama’s Farewell Address, Jan. 10, 2017. Photo credit: Pete Souza

Grace tells the story of ten astonishing days in America in June 2015, when President Obama and Keenan together composed critical speeches to meet a whirlwind of dramatic moments too implausible for a full season of “The West Wing”: the horrific Charleston church massacre, where nine Black churchgoers were murdered by a white supremacist, a public debate over the Confederate flag, and two long-awaited Supreme Court decisions: one that would decide the fate of health care for millions, and one that would determine the right to marriage equality for millions more. President Obama’s soaring eulogy for the victims served as the coda at the close of those ten extraordinary days – and in what is considered one of the finest moments of his presidency, Obama surprised everyone by leading the country in a chorus of “Amazing Grace.”

Through his riveting recounting of this pivotal period of American history, Keenan delivers deeply textured insight into the craft of speechwriting at the highest level and the most intimate look yet at the even higher demands of the work when your boss is Barack Obama.

Grace started with a string of tweets on the second anniversary of that week,” Keenan said. “At first, all I wanted to do was tell a story to show what this country can be at its best and what writing with Barack Obama is actually like when the stakes are highest. The years since have only added context to how those ten days help make sense of the broader sweep of American progress and backlash, this clash of two fundamentally opposing visions of America – and this feels like the right time to finally sit down and write it all up.”

Keenan has written with Barack Obama since 2007, rising from a campaign intern in Chicago to become chief speechwriter at the White House and Obama’s post-presidential collaborator. A sought-after expert on politics and current affairs, Keenan speaks to universities, foundations, and conventions around the world. He teaches a popular course on political speechwriting at his alma mater Northwestern University, where he delivered the commencement address in 2018, viewed more than nine million times on Facebook, and where the graduating class of 2020 chose him to deliver its “Last Lecture.”

HMH editor-at-large Deanne Urmy acquired North American and audio rights at auction for HMH’s Sugar23 Books imprint from Todd Shuster, co-CEO of Aevitas Creative Management.

Grace offers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of President Obama, and, it introduces another prolific American thinker to the world, Cody himself,” said Michael Sugar, principal of Sugar23. “To be in proximity to Cody and to help publish Grace is one of the true honors of my life to date. I started Sugar23 Books with the intention of helping to tell stories that deserve and need to be told, and Grace is exactly that – a beacon of hope, light, and well, grace, at a time when we all need it most.”

About Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media

For nearly two centuries, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has published some of the world's most renowned novels, nonfiction, children's books, and reference works. As part of a leading global learning company, it is uniquely positioned to offer educational and entertaining content for all audiences. Its distinguished author list includes eleven Nobel Prize winners, forty-eight Pulitzer Prize winners, fifteen National Book Award winners, and more than one hundred Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, and Sibert Medal and Honor recipients. Current and recent authors include Tim O'Brien, Natasha Trethewey, Paul Theroux, Alison Bechdel, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Adam Hochschild, Chinelo Okparanta, Mateo Askaripour, Tim Ferriss and a celebrated roster of children's authors and illustrators including Kwame Alexander, Lois Lowry, Linda Sue Park and Chris Van Allsburg. HMH is also home to The Best American series® The Whole30®, Weber Grill, How to Cook Everything®, and other leading lifestyle properties; books by J.R.R. Tolkien; and many iconic children's books and characters, including Curious George®, Little Blue Truck, and The Polar Express. HMH Productions develops and produces media and licensed products related to brands such as Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail. HMH Audio publishes audio books of HMH front list and backlist titles.


Lori Glazer

SVP, Executive Director of Publicity

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt