Cecile Richards is an activist, an organizer, a friend of celebrities, and now a newly minted New York Times best-selling author. The Planned Parenthood president, long known for her troublemaking spirit and willingness to put herself on the line for the causes she believes in, released her first book earlier this month.
Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead, which she wrote in tandem with her longtime speechwriter (and former Clinton campaign staffer) Lauren Peterson, is part-memoir, part-activism handbook. “After the election, not a day went by that someone didn’t stop me on the street and say, ‘What should I do?'” says Richards. “It was this feeling that maybe there was one thing they could do that would make everything better, and I thought instead of talking to everyone on the subway, I should just put it all in one place in a book.”
In the book, Richards oscillates between recounting formative moments of her life — including her childhood with her mother, Ann Richards, former Texas governor and original troublemaker — and shedding light on the many obstacles that women have had to overcome (like the fact that when former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer started her career, there wasn’t even a women’s bathroom near the Senate floor). Despite the many frustrations Richards has endured and witnessed, Make Trouble still brims with optimism.
“One the one hand, I still feel incredibly optimistic based on the outpouring of outrage and the mobilization of people around the country,” she explains. “To me, that is very energizing. But on the other hand, I don’t want to deny the real damage that is being done right now to a lot of communities. I think we have to be realistic about that but also to lift each other up.”
Ahead, as she closes out her book tour and prepares to hand over the Planned Parenthood reins, Richards reveals the rabble-rousing books that shaped her, and more.
My favorite book as a child
I literally have saved all of my children’s books because there were so many that stuck with me. But I guess that one that really comes to mind is Madeline [by Ludwig Bemelmans]. I grew up in Texas, and that was just such foreign idea, that someone could live in a place like Paris. And there were so few books about young girls — when I was growing up they were almost unheard of.
My guilty-pleasure TV show
This is not really of the guilty-pleasure category, but I did just watch Clive Owen in Second Sight. He’s a detective who’s losing his sight. He was so handsome.
The book I read in secret
With my mom [late Texas Gov. Ann Richards], nothing was off-limits, but I so vividly remember in junior high, reading books that nobody else was reading and felt so raw to me. Like The Autobiography of Malcolm X or anything by Maya Angelou. There’s no way to overstate how important it is to have books that expose young people to a world they know nothing about.
The one time I’ve been starstruck
I must say that meeting Michelle Obama got me. And I had a chance to go to the Academy Awards for the first time in my life, at the invitation of Common and Andra Day, and I will say I was starstruck. But I was also unbelievably humbled to get to be with these two phenomenal artists who were such generous supporters [of Planned Parenthood], who invited 10 of us noncelebrities. It was really the most generous thing I think I’ve ever been part of. It was really something.
The last TV show I binged
This is the nerdy part of me: I’m totally into British mysteries. I just finished watching the third season of Broadchurch. I adore the cast and everything about it. And actually, I had to sign thousands of signature pages to put into the books, and I did binge-watch three seasons of Poldark because it was pretty easy to follow, so I could just listen while I signed the pages. Otherwise, I probably never would have done them.
The person who could convince me to run for office
I would do anything Michelle Obama asked me to. I think most women in this country would. But, I will say that I’m much more inclined to encourage women around me, including my own children, to run for office; there’s nothing I love more than the success of other people, and especially some of the young women that we’ve invested in at Planned Parenthood.
The book I recommend to people the most
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It’s about Paul Farmer. It’s about doing something that’s extraordinary. It’s a really inspiring book. He’s committed his life to changing the world and curing people.
The song that always makes me feel better
There are so many songs that I love. I’ve been updating my Spotify playlist from the road. But I’ve been listening to the Dixie Chicks. I know it’s kind of obvious, but the song “Taking the Long Way” is one of my favorites because it reminds me of so many women. To me, it’s about women not doing what they’re “supposed” to do, not fitting in, not giving in.
My dream dinner party
I’m still thinking about Michelle Obama — who, first of all, I’ll never get to eat dinner with — and also my kids, who are kind of scattered around. So that’s probably my perfect dinner, is my kids and Michelle Obama. And I would invite my husband, too. The kids and I would cook and serve Michelle Obama the most amazing meal she’d ever had.
What I would cook for Michelle Obama
We would for sure make a pie — cherry pie is our favorite. And then I think some barbecue shrimp and grits; that’s another family favorite. And depending on how crazy we wanted to get, we might start with some crab cakes and then some fabulous Caesar salad. That would be a good meal. But, listen, if Michelle was coming, then it would be whatever she wanted. I don’t even eat meat, but I would learn to make chicken, if that’s what she wanted. I would find a way.