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: Abdul toggles back and forth between dreams and reality as he narrates his story, which gives us a glimpse into the kind of relationship he had with his mother.
S: Exactly. Precious dies, just like all of our ancestors move on. The only place where they really live is in the memory. So in Abdul's dreams we see the power of Precious' parenting, and the power of her love really sustains him. This is why he doesn't end up in prison. Even when he is suicidal, he says, "If I kill myself, I'll never get to dance." That's Precious inside of him. Even though he is going through all of this, he is able to imagine, because his mother was able to create images for him of happiness and hope.
TR: A New York Times review of your book says that "The Kid, in Sapphire's hands," comes off as the "confused ditherings of a mentally confused character who has difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality." How do you respond to that?
S: I thought that was a vicious attack. But I will say this: You can't play in the major league and get mad when you get hit with a hardball. That's par for the course. What was interesting is that [the NYT book critic] did the same thing to Push 15 years ago. But at the end of the review for The Kid, she doesn't sound like a Push hater. There are a lot of people who changed their tune.
This is a hard book to deal with. You can't have your editor send you the book on Friday and deliver a critique on Tuesday. No, this is not a literal, linear narrative. But neither is Invisible Man. Am I not, as an African-American woman, allowed some complexity in my writing?
TR: Is it your hope that The Kid will also be adapted for film?
S: I was thinking more of like a brilliant choreographer, like Bill T. Jones, adapting it as dance theater, so as to not tell the story in a linear way. You couldn't do that in a movie. You'd be too busy trying to tell the story.
TR: If it did go to film, who could play Abdul?
S: I would prefer someone who we don't know, an off-Broadway actor who is really well-trained in dance. I wouldn't want an actor doubling as an actor-dancer.
TR: Are you planning on writing a third book?
S: I'm going on a 17-city tour, girl! So I'm not really thinking about another book. Hopefully I'll get to bring some work with me, but I am all about this book. I feel like I'll have to be Muhammad Ali and get my gloves and defend this book to the bitter beginning.
TR: Just like you did with Push.
S: Yes. I fight for my texts.
Akoto Ofori-Atta is the assistant editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.