Sapphire: The Interview
Her wildly controversial novel, Push, became an Oscar-nominated movie. She talks to The Root about her new novel, why the New York Times is wrong and why she killed Precious.
TR: Did you think about pulling from any other characters from Push for The Kid?
S: I did, and it didn't work. The character I was most attracted to was Rita Romera, the surrogate mother and best friend of Precious. But we see when Precious is in the hospital dying, when the doctor asks Rita to lift Abdul up, Abdul says, "She's not strong enough to carry me." And that was a metaphoric statement, to say that Rita was also sick and a part of this horrific AIDS epidemic, and soon she would be swept away. And as good as her heart was, she was not going to be the one character who stood behind Abdul.
TR: Did you ever think about continuing the story of Precious' mom, who was a standout character in the movie?
S: I do continue the story of Mary in this text. In Push, Precious asked herself, "What kind of story does Momma have to make her do me like she do?" [In The Kid] we uncover that Precious' mom was literally born in the dirt. [Mary's mother] describes taking care of Mary as "pulling death behind me." So we see where the cycle of abuse begins, and get some answers about Mary. Mary comes off as this big monster, but inside, she's dwarfed. What dwarfed Mary? That answer is laid out clearly in this book.
TR: As you did with Push, you chose heavy topics in this book: HIV, incest, rape. What did you want to convey to the reader about these things?
S: What I am really addressing is the cycle of abuse. What shouldn't be forgotten is that Precious broke the cycle with Abdul. We see in the first chapter that despite very limited resources, Precious pulled it together and made a life for her child. She does not perpetrate what had been done to her.
From education to the support system she had with her girls, she provides a life for her child. We also see the tragedy of single motherhood, the things that happen when there is no extended family. When she falls, he falls. So in this abyss, Abdul falls and the cycle of abuse begins again.
TR: In Push, sympathy was really a driving element in how readers related to Precious. In The Kid, Abdul is abused, but he also does some abusing and dreams about molesting young boys, making it hard at times to show him compassion. What role does sympathy play in this book?
S: Can't you still love and admire him even though he is a deeply flawed human being? That's the question I put forth to the reader. 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? Because how can we find our ways back to life without love?
TR: What role does dance play in the novel?
S: I am trying to show the power of dance and the power of real love to change things. The dance defies the authority of the trauma afflicted on Abdul to be the sole determiner of his reality. Dance gives him back, in a healthy way, some of the power that the abuse has robbed him of.