glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Sapphire (Ramona Lofton) (b. 1950)  
page: 1  2  3  

"Wild Thing" was inspired by the rape of a white female jogger in Central Park by a group of African-American youths, who later admitted that they were out "wilding" (i.e., looking for trouble). In her poem, Sapphire adopts the voice of Leroy, a 13-year-old rapist. She depicts the anger, ignorance, and despair of an abused ghetto youth whose sexuality erupts as a violent expression of rage.

The poem is deeply disturbing, and in its technique and subject matter it anticipates the work that would later bring Sapphire acclaim. However, when lines were taken out of context and distributed to members of Congress as part of Senator Jesse Helms's attack on the National Endowment for the Arts, it sparked outrage and brought her notoriety rather than fame.

The lines in question reveal that Leroy had been molested by a clergyman:

I remember when

Christ sucked my dick

behind the pulpit,

I was 6 years old

he made me promise

not to tell no one.

Since The Portable Lower East Side Queer City had received some modest support from the NEA, the incendiary lines were held up as an example of anti-Christian art funded by American taxpayers. NEA chair John Frohnmayer defended the poem and attempted to place the lines in their proper context, but he soon submitted his resignation.

Sapphire herself was a casualty of the ruthless campaign against the Endowment. As she told Owen Keehnen, "It was a drag. It was a real disservice to me. My work was used against me and I was painted as a pervert playing into the sexual exploitation of women. I spent so many years of my life undoing the effects of my own sexual abuse as a child, trying to help my students with this, and be an advocate in my own community with stopping rape, denouncing incest, and exposing the sexual exploitation and victimization of women. Then to have someone parade the material like that was very harmful."

In 1993, Sapphire enrolled in graduate school at Brooklyn College, where she studied with Allen Ginsberg and Susan Fromberg Shaeffer. The next year she published a collection of poetry and short prose pieces, American Dreams.

American Dreams established Sapphire as a literary talent to be watched. The collection, which contained "Wild Thing," was well received. The reviewer for Publisher's Weekly described the book as "one of the strongest debut collections of the 90s," while warning readers that "Sapphire's imagery is so fierce that readers will want to spread out the book over several sittings."

The reviewer for Booklist noted the work's mixture of the ugly and the beautiful: "Sapphire's stomach-turning recollections of brutal sexual abuse by her father intermingle with clinical notes from the autopsy of a man beaten to death, a daughter's betrayal of her mother with the mother's lover, prison lovers yearning for a glimpse of the moon. These harsh but sometimes beautiful pieces may be seen as barbaric yawp howled Ginsberg-like into the wind, but their words and the images they evoke are hard to dismiss."

Jeannine DeLombard in The New Times Book Review also commented on the juxtaposition of contrary emotions in the work, remarking that "this angry yet hopeful collection of poetry and prose speaks not of dreams deferred but of nightmares lived."

American Dreams brought Sapphire to the attention of the literary public. She won several awards for the book, including the MacArthur Scholarship in Poetry and Downtown Magazine's Year of the Poet III Award.

Hence, it was no surprise that news of a novel in progress sparked interest among publishers. In 1995, agent Caroline Sheedy championed the manuscript and submitted the first 100 pages to a publisher's auction. The result was that Alfred K. Knopf paid $500,000 for the rights to publish the book, Push, which was issued in 1996, in a first printing of 150,000 copies.

Written as an internal monologue spoken by its half-literate protagonist, the novel--in unadorned, often ungrammatical, yet powerful and moving prose--tells the story of Claireece Precious Jones, an obese, HIV-positive Harlem teenager who was repeatedly raped by her father and who gave birth to a child with Down's Syndrome when she was twelve. Her mother, who brutalizes Precious and steals the welfare checks that come in the mail for Precious and her daughter, kicks her out of her home when she again becomes pregnant by her father when she is sixteen.

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3   next page>  
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots

Gay Liberation Front

The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980

Leather Culture

Anthony, Susan B.
Anthony, Susan B.

Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence



Computers, the Internet, and New Media





This Entry Copyright © 2009 glbtq, Inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.