Oprah Winfrey guides you into her office and, after a welcoming hug (Winfrey’s a hugger, but you probably already knew that), she immediately anticipates where your eye is going to land first. Over in the corner, overlooking her Oprah Winfrey Network studio lot, there’s artist Whitfield Lovell’s “Having,” a charcoal on wood panel image of two African American women that has three wood boxes of pennies placed in front of it.
“These women were early entrepreneurs,” Winfrey says. “I looked at this every day from my desk in Chicago to remind me and inspire me that, yes, it can be done.”
The spacious West Hollywood office contains scores of Emmys (not all of them), shelves and shelves of books, many dotted with framed photos of Winfrey with the likes of Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela. Everything here has a story, and Winfrey, a consummate teller of tales, her own and others’, will happily share them with gusto.
“You see that photograph of me and Madiba over there?” Winfrey says, pointing to a picture of her and Mandela, telling of the time she went to South Africa to help AIDS-stricken children for a project called Christmas Kindness. Once there, Winfrey, her hair braided, waited with a town mayor for Mandela to arrive via helicopter.
“I am so excited,” the mayor told her. “Nelson Mandela is coming and he’s bringing Oprah Winfrey from America.” Winfrey looked at him, confused. “I’m already here,” she told him. “I’m Oprah.”
The mayor looked at her. “You? You look like a girl from the village. Where is the Oprah we know?”
Winfrey laughs, but it’s not enough to stir her beloved cocker spaniel, Sadie, sprawled out on the sofa next to her. It’s a good story. And, of course, for Winfrey it’s not just a story but a lesson because Winfrey finds lessons everywhere, and she absorbs them and then passes them on because she loves, to use a word she adores, “pontificating.”
The town mayor’s lesson: Rise for the moment. Give people the Oprah they know.
Over a long, discursive conversation, Winfrey, 63, did just that, touching on the movie she just made for HBO, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” in which she plays Deborah, the daughter of the title character, an African American woman…