“Writing this book was basically an exercise in embarrassment.”
Just over a year ago, in the summer of 2017, another tell-all joined the cacophony of memoirs from former President Barack Obama staffers. This one came with a seven-figure two-book deal, a pre-publication adaptation deal at Universal Pictures, and the promise of a juicy look at the personal lives and relationships of the people behind the history-making administration. Beck Dorey-Stein, the young author behind the hotly-anticipated From the Corner of the Oval, out July 10, was facing down almost-certain literary (and financial) success — if she could just make it past the painful process of actually writing the thing.
“Going through my notes from my time at the White House was like the worst moving experience,” she explains to EW. “Only instead of boxes, it was just my entire life in documents and texts and emails.”
To rewind half a decade, before Dorey-Stein nailed down one of the most impressive of the many Obama-era tell-all deals, she was a struggling millennial living in Washington, D.C., trying to figure out what to do with her life. She was halfheartedly working through a Google Doc of not-very-exciting job prospects by day and suffering through the most D.C. of happy hours — you know, the kind where everyone wants to know your job title before your name — by night. She applied to a Craigslist job opening on a whim, and the next thing she knew she was offered a job as the newest stenographer in the Obama White House.
Now, of course, is the part where you ask yourself, What is a White House stenographer? In Dorey-Stein’s words, it is the human record of what goes down with the president — they record public and private remarks for the press office and the presidential archives. It was an odd position for a twenty-something, but it’s the position that started it all.
“My first week on the job I was really bad at playing it cool,” she says with a laugh. “As a stenographer, it’s not supposed to be about you, but I was losing my s–t all the time — the first time I saw Michelle Obama, I had just been working at a Lululemon! Then I walk into the East Wing and she’s just there doing a televised appearance and wearing the Paris Pink workout top that I had, like, folded the week before.”
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It’s been over 18 months since the Obama administration handed over the governmental reins and the memoirs stemming from those historical eight years have been steadily hitting the bookshelves ever since, but, in a refreshing twist, From the Corner of the Oval fully swaps policy talk for good old-fashioned workplace drama. Dorey-Stein had herself a hell of a time navigating the social minefield that was the highest office in the country, and the book reflects exactly that. She spent much of her White House tenure writing down every last encounter, whether it was in emails to her mother or notes to herself. The result is a no-holds-barred glimpse at what all those promising young staffers were really doing in their down time, an attitude she arrived at after the reality of the 2016 election set in: “I was like, screw it, let’s just go whole hog!”
Some of the most entertaining revelations about Dorey-Stein’s White House tenure come from the book’s tellings of the staff’s travel — as stenographer, she basically had to be wherever POTUS was, ready to record and take note of everything he said and did. She caught constant rides on the country’s most expensive 747 (that would be Air Force One) and often found herself on vacation with the family in locales like Martha’s Vineyard and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Readers will learn all sorts of White House trivia. Like the fact that Air Force One is stocked with a full bar (for the POTUS and junior staffers alike) but passengers have to pay for their own in-flight snacks. Or that staffers loved to pull near all-nighters at the end of a trip, thus making that AF1 wet bar — and the much-appreciated discretion of its highly-regarded flight attendants — a necessity. Or that President Obama himself would take to the lowly hotel gyms (the fitness centers being the lowly thing here, not the hotel) and even wait his turn at the elliptical, refusing to pull rank in order to break a sweat. Or that the Secret Service often rents out entire floors of luxury hotels and apartments while POTUS is on the road, and lucky young staffers would often find themselves in very cushy surroundings. Or that mean-girl culture was, unfortunately, alive and well among the group, with the administration’s very own Queen Bee that Dorey-Stein nicknamed (in the book, at least) The Rattler (after her taste in noisy jewelry).
Or, perhaps juiciest of all, the fact that the romantic dalliances of the Obama administration came with more plot twists than an episode of The Bachelorette. Dorey-Stein’s love life was, presumably, the primary motivation behind her choice to obscure the true identities of many of the major players in Oval; without giving too much away, during the midst of a long-term relationship she became involved with one of POTUS’ high-level staffers, who had a long-term relationship of his own and a past chock full of office romances. The former stenographer makes no qualms about including every juicy detail, from their text-flirting to their own-the-road hookups to said high-level staffers’ very questionable mind games. And that, of course, was the aforementioned exercise in embarrassment.
“It was dark,” the author says of her office fling. “And I’m so close to it, still. It was painful to write, but in reading it back with my editor I was like, okay, I can see how these things might have happened. I’m embarrassed, but I am proud of myself for writing it all down.”
From the Corner of the Oval is unlikely to have consequences in the same way as some of 2018’s other political tell-alls (Fire and Fury, A Higher Loyalty), but it wouldn’t be surprising to find some rousing digital debates about the secretive staffers among its pages. As of this writing the identities of the story’s major players (Beck’s former boyfriend, the cheating senior staffer, The Rattler) are still under wraps, which only invites further speculation on the part of everyone involved. Readers should leave their expectations at the door, though — Dorey-Stein will be taking those names to the grave, ensuing book deals be damned. She’s currently working on her next title, but she promises it will save everyone the embarrassment.
“It won’t be about the White House, which I’m super stoked about,” she laughs. “And it won’t be about me and all the mistakes I’ve made.”