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literature

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

The hope in the novel comes from the help Precious receives in a remedial reading program and an incest survivors' group. With the aid of a sympathetic teacher, she learns to decipher the words on the pages of books and also to discover her own voice.

Despite the harrowing incidents recounted in the book, the novel is an optimistic story of transformation. After having been abused by her father and mother and failed by the educational system and other social structures, Precious is ultimately saved by learning how to read and by the good offices of concerned and helpful individuals.

Sponsor Message.

When Owen Keehnen asked Sapphire what she hoped to convey in Push, she replied:

"The power of intervention in a human being's life who is troubled. While I show a very destroyed family system I also show an extended family that rises up to help Precious. When one structure has fallen another appears--there's an alternative school, there's a halfway house, there's people who have learned that all children belong to us. I wanted to show those interactions in a distressed community. I also wanted to show the power of the human soul and what can be done when a person makes up their mind with what they want to do with their life."

Although some critics accused Sapphire of sensationalizing ghetto life and of contributing to negative views of African-American culture, she vigorously defended the accuracy of her novel. "This novel isn't conjecture, or some studies I read. This is life as I observed it," she told Newsweek; and explained to Keehnen that Precious is "a composite of many young women I encountered when I worked as a literacy teacher in Harlem and the Bronx for 7 years. Over and over I met people with circumstances similar to hers, many with her amazing spirit."

Although some critics thought that the novel's redemptive message was too facile and others complained of the work's explicit language, most reviewers hailed Push, and it garnered Sapphire the Black Caucus of the American Library Association's First Novelist Award. Most critics agreed that in Precious Sapphire had created an unforgettable heroine.

Several reviewers noted Sapphire's indebtedness to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, a debt that the writer has freely acknowledged. But, although Sapphire's work needs to be seen as part of a long tradition of African-American literature, and Walker's The Color Purple plays a crucial role in Push, Sapphire also has been influenced by a number of other traditions, including poets as diverse as Judy Grahn and Allen Ginsberg.

In response to a question from Keehnen about the political impulse of her writing, Sapphire pointedly recalled the influence of The Diary of Anne Frank, which she read as a child: "I read the story of this girl who would have been lost to history and humanity had she not written this diary. Even though I didn't start writing then, I saw it had something to do with coming out of invisibility. Documenting our lives is the one act that almost everyone can do based on their ability and scope."

Given the commercial success of the novel, many readers and critics expected that it would soon be made into a film. Sapphire, however, was wary of filmmakers and extremely protective of her work, especially her protagonist. She told Newsweek, "I don't want a filmmaker to come in and make Precious look pathetic." She reportedly turned down several offers to buy the film rights.

In 1999, Sapphire returned to poetry by issuing Black Wings & Blind Angels, a collection of 48 poems. Although the book did not receive anywhere near the attention that Push received, it confirmed Sapphire as a writer with a distinctive voice and a characteristic intensity.

After being in the limelight in the late 1990s, Sapphire retreated into relative obscurity, declining requests for interviews and jealously guarding her privacy.

In 2009, however, the writer returned to public visibility as she helped promote Lee Daniels' film entitled Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, which received enthusiastic reviews and awards on the film festival circuit, including at Cannes and the Sundance Film Festival. (The film was originally entitled Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire but later changed to avoid confusion with the action film Push, also released in 2009).

Sapphire entrusted Daniels, an openly gay African-American director and producer, with the project only after she became convinced that he shared his respect for her protagonist. As for his part, Daniels has said that the book became a part of his DNA and that he was determined to bring it to the screen as authentically as possible.

The film has received glowing reviews, especially for its cast, which includes newcomer Gabourney Sidibe as Precious, Mo'Nique as the mother, and Mariah Carey as the teacher.

Sapphire lives and works in New York City.

Claude J. Summers

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    Bibliography
   

Brennan, Carol. "Sapphire." Contemporary Black Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1997, 1999. http://www.answers.com/topic/sapphire-author

Clarke, Cheryl. "An Identity of One's Own." Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review 3.4 (Fall 1996): 37.

Giles, Jeff. "Beginner's Pluck." Newsweek (June 3, 1996): 72-73.

Keehnen, Owen. "Artist with a Mission: A Conversation with Sapphire (1996) ." glbtq.com (February 14, 2005): http://www.glbtq.com/sfeatures/index_10.html

Marvel, Mark. "Sapphire's Big Push." Interview (June 1996): 28-30. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1285/is_n6_v26/ai_18450196/

Max, D. T. "Interview." Harper's Bazaar (July 1996): 108-09; 135-36.

Siegel, Tatiana. "When 'Push' Comes to Shove." Variety (February 20, 2009): http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118000415.html?categoryid=13&cs=1

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2009  
    Date Last Updated December 1, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/sapphire.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2009 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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