Interview with Sapphire, the author of 'Push'

Studio 360

Story by PRI's Studio 360. For more, listen to the audio above.

Sapphire's novel "Push" is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Clarice "Precious" Jones, an obese, sexually and physically abused, HIV positive, pregnant-by-incest teenager in Harlem. In the story, Precious gives birth to her second son, Abdul Jamal Louis Jones. Readers can now learn what happens to Abdul in Sapphire's new book, "The Kid."

At the start of the book, Abdul is nine, and his mother has just died. "That first chapter is kind of the tragedy of single motherhood," says Sapphire. "When Precious dies, there is no one else." Precious had been able to end the cycle of abuse with her parenting of Abdul, but her death begins a new cycle of abuse for her son as he navigates the foster care and adoption systems.

In "Push," a kindly teacher offers writing as an outlet from Precious' abuse; for Abdul, dance provides him an alternative to violence. Sapphire explains why she decided to bring dance into Abdul's life: "I inflicted so much physical pain on his body through the abuse he had suffered […] and I really realized that his whole connection with his body had been broken when the mother died, and I don't know of a better way, and a more holistic way to reclaim that connection with the body than through dance."

Dance also allows him to see a positive future for himself. When he is tempted to behave in harmful ways, he must consider how his actions affect his opportunities to become a dancer. As Sapphire puts it, Abdul "begins to have a choice."

Although Sapphire had been working on "The Kid," off and on for 10 years, she says the public's response to the film adaptation of "Push" prompted her to complete the book. Unlike her characters, the author comes from a stable background. She explains her motivation to write about characters like Precious and Abdul. "I am the descendent of slaves […] and the tradition of African American literature is to write about the dispossessed -- is to write about those without a voice. And it really wasn't until I started writing stories about people like Precious and Abdul that I really found my voice."


PRI's Peabody Award-winning "Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen" from WNYC is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy -- so let "Studio 360" steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.

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