NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sapphire’s first book became the unlikely Oscar-winning movie “Precious,” but the author isn’t expecting more Hollywood gold from her follow-up novel which features harrowing passages of rape and sexual abuse.
Her first novel, “Push,” about an obese, illiterate, sexually abused, Harlem teenage mother nicknamed “Precious”, catapulted to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list after the film version became an unlikely success — 13 years after her the book’s 1996 release.
Yet Sapphire, whose shocking, graphic style has invited previous controversy, is still not compromising her story or strong language to soften up her book for Hollywood this time around.
In “The Kid”, Precious, the heroine which launched actress Gabourey Sidibe’s career with an Oscar nomination, is killed off at the outset. Her abusive mother, Mary, the role that won Mo’Nique an Oscar for supporting actress, is also missing.
“An exploitative (film) version of ‘The Kid,’ especially emphasizing his sexuality, could destroy this book,” Sapphire told Reuters in an interview. “With a movie, you’ve got that visual image. Gabourey is now ‘Precious’ for many hundreds of thousands of people. Mo’Nique is Mama, that’s fixed. I am not ready for that to happen with this novel yet.”
Sapphire said “The Kid,” which follows the wretched life of Precious’ son, Abdul, or “J.J.” is also “riskier” material. The book includes vivid depictions of Abdul being savagely beaten in foster care, sexually abused by Catholic brothers in an orphanage and of Abdul raping a younger boy.
Sapphire, 60, also an acclaimed poet, believes her book would adapt better as a dance performance by, say, top U.S. choreographer Bill T. Jones.
Jones’s partner, Bjorn Amelan, told Reuters “there is a great respect from Bill toward Sapphire and his curiosity is very much peaked.”
Sapphire doesn’t see “The Kid” as a sequel. While Precious became a heroine working against the odds, Abdul is a more complex portrait, she said. But like his mother, he seeks solace through art, in his case as a dancer.
“He has more capacity to do good, but he also has more capacity to do bad...and that is who we are as human beings, on some level. Some people channel and hide it better, but we all have the capacity for good and evil,” she said.
Sapphire said she began writing “The Kid” before her first book became a film and admits, “the movie created a market for this book.”
She calls the film “beautiful” but ultimately a “surreal” experience which ended with her decision not to walk the Oscars’ red carpet.
The experience only added to her dedication to writing and remaining true to her own self even if it meant rejection.
So far, reviews of “The Kid” are varied. The Los Angeles Times called it “an accomplished work of art,” but said her “depictions of brutality and desire may be too challenging for some readers” — an observation she is used to.
“My style is confrontational and it does move readers to the edge,” she said.
She no longer discusses her own abuse at the hands of her father, which she said was misinterpreted by journalists. She now prefers to focus on issues such as AIDS orphans or the struggles in black communities for proper social services.
And then there is her own perpetual writing struggle.
“I see myself like those miners — you just go down, down, down,” she said. “I hope to keep going and excavating what I feel is the truth and bringing it back.”
Editing by Mark Egan and Bob Tourtellotte