Even after eight years, the moment is surreal for Beck Dorey-Stein.
The author had stumbled into the land of D.C. creatures while working as a teacher in an elite school there. You know, those people who live and breathe politics. Those who ask, “So what do you do?” with their business card already between their fingertips, before even asking your name.
In 2011, the 20-something, now-former-teacher sat at her kitchen table sending out cover letters that got her no response, with as little savings as she had confidence. Then, one answer to a stenographer ad on Craigslist landed her a job in the White House under former President Barack Obama, and that experience became the backdrop for her first book, “From the Corner of the Oval.”
The memoir shows Dorey-Stein as a fish out of water in the D.C. world, living out the chaos of her 20s aside the chaos of the White House. During her five years working for the president, Dorey-Stein developed unlikely friendships with D.C. elites, fell in love with a White House insider, got her heart broken—more than once—and eventually found her voice.
The book has already received praise from Lauren Weisberger, author of “The Devil Wears Prada” and Piper Kerman, author of “Orange is the New Black,” as well as other authors and news outlets.
“It’s quite empowering to go from holding the microphone up to other people to now holding the microphone and actually speaking into it,” she said. “I much prefer this.”
Dorey-Stein’s portrait of her life in the White House is as chaotic as it is fascinating. On an average day, she is found racing among a pool of reporters and photographers in her bright pink flats to get to the president. She travels across time zones, following the POTUS with a recorder and mic in hand. Of course, there are the occasional run-ins with White House elites such as Hillary Clinton, David Plouffe, Joe Biden and Obama himself.
But not everything is always glamorous.
Not only does “From the Corner of the Oval” reflect on pounding down drinks with her colleagues and flying in Air Force One with POTUS, but Dorey-Stein writes about what it’s like to feel like an outsider, her battle with depression, loving a married man and even national disasters like the Pulse and Sandy Hook shootings.
Since she was a kid, she said, her writing style has always been raw and honest. So, of course, her memoir follows.
“I love when someone says, ‘I feel like you were talking just to me,’” Dorey-Stein said. “That was my goal, to make it feel like I was just writing to a best friend.”
Looking back on these moments, she regards some of them as therapeutic.
“Even if I was down on myself at the time, it was a really good opportunity to forgive myself and learn the lessons I wanted to learn, which was, ‘You have to be kind to the people around you’ and, ‘You’re going to fall in love with the wrong guy,’” she said. “You got to keep working and living through that and what you can take away from that.”
For Dorey-Stein, the most special moment came during a 2016 visit to Vietnam, when she was amazed by the throngs of people who came out to greet Obama.
“I just remember tearing up because it was just so exciting to think this president means this much to so many people halfway around the world that they all turned out to see him,” she said. “I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is ending because this is the moment I want to have every time we go abroad.’”
After Obama’s term ended, Dorey-Stein stayed in the White House, but only for two months.
“They were the worst two months of my life,” she said. “The workload had decreased, and we barely did anything. Having to go there and type things I not only didn’t believe in, but was admittedly opposed to, it was extremely difficult.”
Ironically, it was the Trump presidency that pushed Dorey-Stein into creating her memoir.
“Trump winning—that was the ultimate kick in the pants of, ‘Okay, it’s now or never. If I’m not going to take my writing seriously right now, when am I going to?’” she said.
The book basically wrote itself, she said. Through the years, she kept a journal, phone memos, texts and emails to her mother and patched them all together to become “From the Corner of the Oval.”
“I didn’t write this book for the D.C. insiders,” she said. “I wrote this for the outsiders and people who are navigating their first and second jobs and feeling maybe a little overlooked and unlucky. You just have to persist, and you never know when a Craigslist ad might be your ticket.”
See Beck Dorey-Stein this Saturday, July 21, 6 to 8 p.m., at Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information visit www.midtownscholar.com.