Sapphire Talks New Novel and Combatting the Cycle of Violence

The author's new book focuses on the son of her debut character Precious, as he battles his own demons and fights to transcend his circumstances.

By Bryan Gerhart Jul 18, 2011

Sapphire’s 1996 novel Push and its Academy Award-winning film adaptation Precious were both chilling, controversial glimpses of the too often ignored horrors that afflict people in this country’s margins. The Kid, Sapphire’s recently released second novel, continues in this vein, following Precious’ son Abdul as he struggles to carve an identity out of a life ravaged by tragedy. In an interview with The Root last week, the author says that "This isn’t an easy text." With subject matter that includes incest, AIDS and poverty, it’s unlikely that anyone would disagree.

Even though the protagonist is the son of Precious, the illiterate heroine of her first book, Sapphire says that The Kid is only a sequel to Push from a marketing standpoint. "It’s only a sequel in a sense that it touches on HIV/AIDS," she explained. "Abdul’s mother could have been anybody, anywhere. But this is his book." The Kid begins with Precious’ death, which Sapphire says was necessary from what she called a "social realist" standpoint. "African-American women who were diagnosed with AIDS at the time that Push was written were 10 times more likely than upper-class, gay white men to die in the first couple months of diagnosis. So Precious couldn’t survive."

While Precious’ role in The Kid is limited, Sapphire’s new work will explore more of her mother’s story. Mary, the role Mo’Nique won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress with, is revealed to have come from as degrading a background as her daughter. "We see where the cycle of abuse begins." Sapphire says that this cycle of abuse is what she is addressing with her most recent work. "What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Precious broke the cycle with Abdul … she provides a life for her child." Despite Precious’ attempt to end the cycle, Abdul is still a "deeply flawed human being" who abuses on his own and fantasizes about molesting young boys. Despite his shortcomings, Sapphire hopes readers will love and admire him. "We see all the good things about Abdul’s ambition and his integrity. But given what has happened to him, can’t we still love this child?"

While Precious was both a critical and commercial success, Sapphire doesn’t see a film adaptation in The Kid‘s future. She thinks the novel would be better suited for dance theater, given its non-linear narrative, but that if it did make it to the silver screen she’d need a trained dancer to play the role of Abdul. Sapphire highlights the key role dance plays in the novel, saying it "defies the authority of the trauma afflicted on Abdul to be the sole determiner of his reality."

In the interview, The Root asks the author to respond to a New York Times review that says The Kid comes off as the "confused ditherings of a mentally confused character." Given Sapphire’s controversial content, it’s no surprise that she can roll with punches, and she responds with a question of her own: "Am I not, as an African-American woman, allowed some complexity in my writing?"