Sapphire Returns with Push Sequel

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 5, 2011 6:20PM

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The Kid, the sequel to Push, tells the story of Precious' son, Abdul.
When writer and poet Sapphire published her first book, Push, it brought her as much praise as it did controversy. It was the story of a young African American girl whose life was full of incest and abuse. The book gained even more exposure with the release of the movie Precious, which was based on the books. Audiences were shocked but drawn to the story of the obese and illiterate Precious and the horrific challenges she faced at home and in school.

Now, 15 years after Push, Sapphire is back with another book. The Kid is the story of Abdul, Precious’ son. At the beginning of The Kid, Abdul is nine years old and recently orphaned. The book follows Abdul as he bounces from various living situations and grows older into adolescence and his teenage years.

Sapphire will be in Chicago next week for the monthly Author Talks series at Chase Auditorium. She’ll be chatting with Chicago Tribune Literary Editor Elizabeth Taylor about her new novel and a question and answer session will follow. We had a chance to briefly chat with Sapphire about The Kid and what she hopes readers will get from it.

Author Talks at Chase Auditorium with Sapphire, 10 S. Dearborn Street, August 8, 6:30 p.m., tickets $25 via Eventbrite

Chicagoist: A lot has happened since Push was published, including the election of a black president. Do you think readers will now be looking for something different in The Kid than they were looking for in Push?

Sapphire: I think because there’s been so much success in some ways in the African American community. No one can look at our books and say that I’m making black people look bad. I’m showing one side of the spectrum of the black community, not the whole 360 spectrum. It is one small thing that we need to look at in the black society.

Chicagoist: You’ve talked about cracking open stereotypes with both Push and the movie Precious. What are some more stereotypes you’re cracking open in The Kid?

Sapphire: We’re looking at an orphan here. It’s one of the more obvious sentimental mythologies that we function under, and it stems from Victorian literature. We don’t like to use that word in America. But we’re looking at a motif that has been highly sentimentalized. Here I think we’re presented with a highly realistic picture of what happens to a child without parents, even in a modern post-industrial society that claims to have a safety net. This is one cultural myth that we’ll be busting open when we enter into The Kid.

Also there’s the mythology of the victim and the victimizer. Here we see that they’re often one and same. We will see the full cycle of abuse in Abdul. We will see the Catholic brother who uses him and then turn a couple pages and we will see Abdul do the exact same thing that has been done to him.

Chicagoist: Now that readers know they are going to be getting into some heavy stuff when they read your work, how do you think readers might approach The Kid?

Sapphire: The material in The Kid is even tougher than the material in Push. But I’ve given readers 15 years to prepare. It’s not like I’m coming out with a book every year. They know it will be a long time before the next one, we can all get in our groups and start talking about it and start our political activism and those of us who need to get therapy, we can begin to heal.

Chicagoist: Who inspired Abdul’s character?

Sapphire: I didn’t think of any specific children. For awhile I was a substitute teacher and worked as a mediator for The Children’s Aid Society and a poet in the school and I dealt with second graders. So I did know a lot of wonderful little boys. I really tried to create that innocence and wonder. I tried as close as I could get to be in there with them.

But then he becomes a unique individual who even surprises me as I continue to write. I realized the thing he wanted was dance. There’s a real emphasis on the drums and the heartbeat in dance. You almost always hear people refer to Africa as the motherland, and in this connection with dance, I create this world for a few minutes at a time where he connects with the motherland and it is a metaphor for connecting with his mother.

Chicagoist: How do you intend to inspire hope in these dark stories that feel hopeless?

Sapphire: One of the things I would hope is that people would look at the fact that when Abdul is 9 years old, he goes into foster care, then a group home, orphanage, and this whole thing. None of this whole thing would have happened if it wasn’t for the bureaucracy and racism.

A black child has less of a chance of a chance being adopted than a stray animal. I hope people remember the focus of this book is of a little boy who lost his mother and loses his way.