Higher Ground, the production company set up by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, has struck an option deal to turn the non-fiction book into a Spotify podcast series.
The deal is unusual as while it’s commonplace for books to be optioned for scripted series and movies as well as documentaries, it’s rare from book-to-podcast.
The book, which was published by One World / Penguin Random House, in February, offers an exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: racism has a cost for everyone—not just for people of color.
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McGhee, an expert in economic and social policy and the former president of the inequality-focused think tank Demos, embarks on a deeply personal journey from Maine to Mississippi to California, tallying what we lose when we buy into the zero-sum paradigm—the idea that progress for some of us must come at the expense of others.
Along the way, she meets people who confide in her about losing their homes, their dreams, and their shot at better jobs to the toxic mix of American racism and greed. But she also finds people who show her that a “Solidarity Dividend” is possible when we reject the zero-sum and seek common solutions to our common problems.
The Sum of Us podcast series will be an insightful and heartwarming journey across the United States with a focus on stories of unlikely connection and shared humanity across cultural divides. Featuring characters from The Sum of Us as well as new storylines, the podcast series is expected to launch in early 2022.
The podcast is part of an overall deal between Higher Ground and Spotify, which has already led to shows such as Renegades, with Bruce Springsteen, and The Michelle Obama Podcast.
“The Sum of Us is a deeply empathetic and heartfelt analysis of the real impact of inequality and racism on everyday Americans,” said Dan Fierman, President of Higher Ground Audio. “Heather not only understands and captures the broader history of how we got here, but she also truly cares about the many people impacted today by our biggest societal failures. We are thrilled to work with her to amplify the beautiful stories from her essential new book.”
“The Obamas’ Higher Ground – with its mission to inspire through powerful storytelling – is the perfect partner for The Sum of Us,” added Heather McGhee. “The podcast will take listeners along as I hit the road again in the wake of the pandemic, in search of more signs of the America we’re becoming—where people from all walks of life come together to accomplish what we simply can’t do on our own. The podcast will also delve deeper into the lives of some of the most memorable characters in the book.”
McGhee, who now chairs the board of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, is represented by WME.