Book excerpt: “Both / And: A Life in Many Worlds” by Huma Abedin

In her memories, “Both / And: A life in many worlds” (published by Scribner, a copy of Simon & Schuster, a division of ViacomCBS), Huma Abedin, the longtime assistant to Hillary Rodham Clinton, writes about her awakening to the work of diplomacy, women’s participation in government, and how she found a role for herself even at the most famous address in the world.

Read the excerpt below, and do not miss Norah O’Donnell’s interview with Huma Abedin on “CBS Sunday Morning” on October 31st!



In March 1995, in the middle of my second year [at George Washington University], my mother invited me to join her in New York at the preparatory session for the fourth UN World Conference on Women, which would be held in Beijing in September. She needed an assistant to do what I had done for my father on his travels: make trips and hotel reservations, take notes at meetings, and so on. It had been a decade since the last world conference on women, and it sounded like some bureaucratic exercise. My mother’s generation had struggled and fought for progress. Was it not mine who was ready to reap the benefits? I assumed I could do anything I wanted, especially after leaving Saudi Arabia and coming to America. I did not see it as revolutionary for women to meet to demand the very basic things that I now took for granted.

Yet I was honored the moment I entered the UN lobby, where its magnificent entrance was flooded with natural light from a high floor-to-ceiling wall of windows. The whole building was teeming with thousands of women. Turn this way and they spoke Spanish; turned that way, and they spoke Dutch, French, and Arabic. It felt like a place where things were happening.

The previous world conferences on women had resulted in a living document called “The Draft Platform for Action,” on broad, far-reaching goals for the advancement of women, while also detailing specific milestones and benchmarks for each country and region. Delegations had come to New York to propose amendments to the document, and they would meet in various committees to deal with and edit them, line by line and word for word. My job was to take my mother and her non-governmental organization to all these different meetings and take notes on the changes that were made and then enter them into the document so she and her colleagues could review them. The changes will eventually be put to the vote and the adopted changes will be included in the final draft platform to be ratified in Beijing.

It was really exciting. Being there gave me a window into how diplomacy works, how countries should bend their own priorities and negotiate. It was also an eye-opening education in the way women were still treated around the world, not only in developing countries, but everywhere. At almost every meeting, my mother reminded her colleagues that nothing would change unless we invited men to the table.

Back at GWU, I ran for president of the Pakistan Students’ Association after two guys laughed when someone suggested I would be an ideal candidate to lead our group. I won. Shortly afterwards, I invited the Pakistani Ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, to the university, where she gave a major political speech on US-Pakistani relations. Our group also organized students to lobby the Congress. This little taste of diplomacy and politics felt not only exciting but also real. Almost like a beginning.

During my teenage years, I started talking to friends about an internship for my final year. To apply for graduate school, I needed some form of work experience, and I did not have any. My friend Roneith Hibbert told me about her incredible internship at the White House, where she worked for President Clinton’s press secretary, Mike McCurry. She sat right behind the podium and the blue curtain where all the administration officials would appear in the media. “I think you would love it and it would be a great opportunity. I’m picking up an application for you.”

I had never dreamed of working in the White House or even in government. I had a suspicion that it could be completely out of my reach. But I still carried the feeling I had when I walked around the UN building, and I figured, Well, what do I have to lose?

From “Both / And: A Life in Many Worlds” by Huma Abedin. Copyright © 2021 by Huma Abedin. Excerpts courtesy of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

For more info:

Watch a preview clip of Norah O’Donnell’s interview with Huma Abedin below:

CBS News Exclusive: Huma Abedin speaks out



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