If there's one thing that novelist Sapphire is not, it's wishy-washy. The woman who wrote Push — the 1996 novel that inspired the Academy Award-nominated 2009 film Precious (which won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mo'Nique) — is as fiery and opinionated as they come. That outspoken attitude is part of what made Push both effective and controversial. The writer and social activist drops by Porter Square Books this week to discuss her latest novel, The Kid (Penguin), in which we follow Precious Jones's son Abdul as his life spirals out of control after his mother dies of AIDS.
SO THE KID PICKS UP WHERE PUSH LEFT OFF. Yes, it's the sequel in terms of looking at the societal conditions that produced Precious Jones. So we're looking again at poverty, the AIDS epidemic, and the racism that permeates the underclass experience in America. I think it's a cliché, but it does take a village to raise a child. When this one individual dies, there is no safety net, there is no extended family, there is nothing except what awaits most African-American AIDS orphans: foster care. So we enter into the new trajectory of his life, which is erratically altered after the death of his mother, and we follow his descent.
THE BOOK IS VERY GRAPHIC IN ITS DESCRIPTIONS OF ABUSE. I GUESS THAT'S A PURPOSEFUL DEVICE? That was purposeful. It actually might not be necessary right now. At the time that I had written the book we hadn't had Penn State. People didn't really know what was happening. People were equating male abuse with some kind of thing that men want. It's hard for them to think of males as being victimized. They think of males as ever-horny, as ever-ready and wanting sex all the time, so I really wanted to show how these children are broken and how the cycle of abuse is perpetuated.
SPEAKING TO THAT, I FEEL THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE STILL AREN'T LOOKING AT THIS THE WAY THEY NEED TO. PEOPLE STILL WANT TO MAKE CONCESSIONS FOR JERRY SANDUSKY. Exactly. When you start talking about horsing around in the shower, what the heck is that? No, we're talking about bending a baby over and having an adult stick his penis in their anus. And that's just the physical ramifications. We're not talking about the psychological ramifications. . . . As long as we keep listening to this fool talk about his histrionic personality — and he's overly affectionate, and he likes to horse around, and he loves kids — we're not dealing with what he did. And that is why I chose graphic language.
SEXUAL ABUSE AS WELL AS ABUSE ON MANY LEVELS FACTORS INTO MOST OF YOUR WORK. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU EXPERIENCED? I'm not relying on my own experiences or people close to me. I was really looking at the repercussions of what was happening in the African-American community. It seems to happen mostly to poor children and children of single moms and stuff like that. Well, they come back to my community. They don't just disappear. These children grow up and they come back, and they try unsuccessfully to be fathers and husbands and good brothers, and often end up in prison, in homeless shelters and stuff like that.