"I'm not here to be your massage therapist," she said, leaning over to sign my copy of The Kid. "I'm here to tell a story." And then I watched Sapphire draw a big, puffy heart around the title, her signature as looping and graceful as her reading voice.
After reading The Kid for BlogHer Book Club, I knew I had to go see Sapphire when she came to Kansas City on her book tour. To be truthful, I was intimidated to meet her, a little scared of her, so strong are her words and so brutal her fiction. I expected, I don't know, someone angrier, someone sadder.
Push, Sapphire's debut novel and the book in which we are introduced to Abdul's mother, Precious, described Precious' abuse at the hands of her parents. I raised my hand and asked why she'd chosen to show Abdul's abuse when the two people who hurt his mother were gone. Sapphire described the New York City foster care system, a place she considers hell. She described the role of African-American single mothers in stopping such a cycle of abuse, and what happens when that mother disappears. She said the hardest part to write in the book was a child losing his mother.
According to Sapphire, Precious deals with abuse by connecting with others -- forming her own tribe, being lovable -- and Abdul embodies the other side of the cycle of abuse, aping his abusers' behavior and sometimes even using their own words as he then abuses others. "It's unrealistic to think he would react the same way to abuse that Precious did," Sapphire said. I sat there thinking it was unrealistic to expect a lot of people to understand that. Of course, Sapphire knows that, too.
It was clear that she didn't hate Abdul, not at all. She researched Abdul, she understood Abdul, but she didn't hate him. I sort of hate him. Or maybe I don't hate him so much as I hate how he acted, how he responded. But then again, I hate a lot of human responses to the cruelty of the world. They make me wonder how resilient I myself am.
Sapphire started out as a poet, and as she read excerpts from her book, her voice changed, her meter changed, rising and lowering, now chummy, now threatening. She's a powerful performer, perhaps as powerful a performer as a writer, or maybe they are impossible to separate. She says she never cared about her poems as much as she does The Kid, though.
"It's going to take people a while to get this, but I know I have done something good, something strong," she said.
And then, minutes after she finished reading an except leading up to Abdul's abuse of a younger boy, the readings' organizers asked her to select a few winners for their raffle. And the woman who wrote these two amazing but disturbing books, who inspired an Academy-Award winning movie, smiled broadly and pranced over to pick five names to win LED book lights.
I got in line to have my book signed, and I admit I was dumbfounded. In order to write what she wrote, this woman has wells of emotion deeper than most. She doesn't seem to suffer from the malady of the talented-and-recognized-for-it, though: She's completely accessible as a human being. I definitely recognized that she uses her art as a tool to comment on society. Perhaps it's been a while since someone has done this in a way that cuts so deep, perhaps we are unprepared for unvarnished truths even as we watch reality television that's anything but real. I've read thousands of books in my life, but only a few dozen are truly unforgettable -- most of them are not happy stories, and all of them comment on the human condition. While I wouldn't say this is a favorite or easy book to read, The Kid is going on that list of books that seared themselves into my memory because they made me think.
Before I left, I bought an extra copy of The Kid and asked Sapphire to sign it for a BlogHer reader. If you'd like to win this signed copy, please leave a comment below. You may comment as many times as you like. We'll close comments on August 18, 2011 at 3 pm PT and notify the winner by email, so make sure you have your email address in your BlogHer profile!
Updated: the winning number was 8! Texasebeth is the winner and will be contacted via email.
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