Push author Sapphire discusses The Kid
In her 1996 novel Push, Sapphire ventured into the profoundly dark territory of a young black girl's experience growing up in late-'80s Harlem. The book dealt with the difficult topics of incest, rape, AIDS, illiteracy, poverty and violence toward infants, yet none of this prevented the 2009 film adaptation, Precious (produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry), from becoming an award-winning smash. Last summer, fifteen years after Push was published, Sapphire released her follow-up novel, The Kid, a similarly disturbing look into the dark worlds of abuse and torment, this time following Precious's son, Abdul, after Precious has died of AIDS.
Sapphire, author of Push.
Sapphire will be at the Tattered Cover on Tuesday, June 26, to read from the new paperback edition of The Kid; we caught up with her to discuss the book and ventured into such topics as Hollywood, J.T. Leroy and why readers don't empathize with male characters.
Westword: In The Kid, you frame the victim and the perpetrator within the same character, an incredibly un-Hollywood thing to do. Would you say this novel is even less likely to be made into a big-budget film?
Sapphire: I think commercial media looks at things in terms of heroes and villains. And we all know that the psychological reality of people is much more complex than that. So, yeah, [The Kid] may be a problem for people looking for a shallow, rags-to-riches-type story, where you have a clear-cut hero. But the people looking to delve into complex characters -- this could be a good opportunity for them.
Then again, after first readingPush, I couldn't have imagined that being turned into a big Hollywood success, either.
No, you probably wouldn't.
That film was so dark and left the audience with an unsettling lack of resolution, so it's surprising that it had such success as a "message movie." What do you feel that people responded to inPrecious?
The book had been out for thirteen years before the movie was released, so what was shocking then has now become almost accepted knowledge. People are no longer shocked by the issues that the text showed; the more mainstream it became, and the more ability people had to look at certain truths, they were able to get behind it in a way that they weren't able to when the book first came out.
Do you think there is any type of sadism felt by your readers toward these characters?
I don't think there is any type of sadism. I think what happens is there is a type of ironic identification. For many people who are watching the lives of their friends and their family, they see that life is no longer a fairy tale. We no longer look to fairy tales to explain our existence. So I think in many ways, there was an intense sense of identification with the character in Push.
And for many of us it was refreshing to see a movie that didn't follow a predictable narrative. You didn't know where the story was headed.
Yes. And there is a real overcoming of crisis that is not about rags-to-riches; it's not about the heroine finding a nice man to marry her, and they go off and live happily ever after. There was something about the fortitude of Precious, about the dignity of a person whose whole world was falling apart, but still had enough sense of self to begin to carve her little life out. When we usually see people who have it all, from Paris Hilton to Britney Spears, blonde millionaires who throw their lives down the toilet. So we look at someone like Precious, someone with one one-thousandth of their resources, steadily try to build something, try to make something out of nothing. And there is a real heroism to that. There's no glamor to it, but there is something to that that the audience attached to, they walked away taking something from that, feeling good about it.