From The Grio — In 1996, author Sapphire published Push, a redemptive tale of an illiterate, abused Harlem teen trying to keep it together and find her way in a world in which she was clearly handed, to put it mildly, the short end of the stick. Told with a blunt, merciless delivery, the book shocked readers with both the circumstances it concerned itself with, and its language — brutal and raw. Push was a literary punch in the stomach.
The novel was based on girls that Sapphire (author Ramona Lofton) had met in the Harlem literacy program where she taught. It was beautifully crafted and riveting, rich with a palpable anguish, and frighteningly real. Sapphire gave a voice to those young women who silently had to bear the brunt of ignorance, incest, and poverty and it really touched a nerve with both readers and the publishing world. To watch Precious blossom under the guidance of a caring teacher and find herself through writing, gave us hope. Despite being born destitute and black, despite the wretched parents, despite being over 200 pounds and illiterate, her fighting spirit came through.
Over the years, the author had been approached to bring her tale to the screen, but she repeatedly declined, for fear that her work would be turned into something exploitative. It took Lee Daniels several years of cajoling, and a screening of Monster’s Ball (which he produced), before Sapphire was comfortable enough to hand him her “baby” and green light the project, which of course went on to great critical acclaim: Lee Daniels’s nomination for best director, Geoffrey Fletcher‘s win for best screenplay, Gabourey Sidibe’s nomination for best actress, and Mo’Nique’s best supporting actress win.
With the success of the film version, it is no surprise that now, some 14 years later, Sapphire’s sequel novel, The Kid, will be published by Penguin Press next summer. The Kid will focus on Precious’s son “as he approaches manhood — alone, brutalized and with the soul of an artist.” Cue the movie trailer. Perhaps Sapphire and Daniels should just sync their computers and churn out both book and screenplay, because we know that’s where this is leading. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, necessarily, however, there are several potential problems with this new venture.
The first is on a purely personal level. Part of me wants to hold on to my version of Claireece Precious Jones’s “happy ever after,” and I’m just not sure that I want Sapphire messing with it. I am well aware that Precious was HIVpositive, and that the chance of her survival, based on the medications available in the 1980s, was slim, but perhaps I don’t need to see the bad news in black and white. Harsh as it was, that book was magical and maybe spells shouldn’t be broken.
Then there is always the dilemma of which of our stories get told.