Photo: Olivia Barr
In The Kid (Penguin), Sapphire tells the story of Abdul Jones, who is 9 when we meet him, on the day of his mother's—Precious's—funeral. Shuffled off to one negligent or abusive foster home after another, Abdul eventually finds and nurtures the gift that will save him: He becomes a dancer. O's Crystal G. Martin talked to Sapphire about her hopes for the new novel.
O: Your method of storytelling in Push—the cacophony of voices—was unusual for 1996, and it received a lot of attention. You changed your approach in The Kid. Why?
Sapphire: The writing style of this novel is stream of consciousness. We're in Abdul's head, which allows us to see him evolve and build self-awareness. He progresses in isolation—he doesn't have real friends or community, like Precious did. And that loneliness gives him the time and energy to become a great artist.
O: Early on in the novel, Catholic priests at an orphanage abuse Abdul, and he in turn sexually assaults other children. What are you saying in these scenes?
Sapphire: Through Abdul's experience, we have an entrée into what social workers and child psychiatrists see every day: repetition of the abuse cycle. Unlike Precious, Abdul is not a completely sympathetic character. His story is not beautiful, and that was my intent—to take this novel further than I'd gone in Push.
O: What can we learn from Abdul?
Sapphire: His mother's death begins Abdul's downward spiral, but Precious gave him nine good years, and he never forgets that somebody, somewhere told him, "You're gonna be something." Right now there is a disproportionate number of African-American children in foster care. It's almost like a scene from Dickensian London. But Abdul, like a lot of foster kids, or children who have been on the streets, never totally succumbs to the evil around him. He's one black man who doesn't wind up behind bars, unemployed, or with a needle in his arm. So in that way he's very close to my heart—I love this boy.
O: Do you hope to adapt The Kid for the big screen, and whom would you cast as Abdul?
Sapphire: I'd love to see my book come to life. I see it as a theater production with choreography. I can only imagine the possibilities if someone like choreographer Bill T. Jones or a wonderful African-American male director were to translate this book to the stage. And I'd want to be involved in the selection process: Whoever played Abdul would have to be tall and a great dancer, but most importantly, he'd radiate a magnetism and strength, a sense of survival, from inside. That's why I like the image on the cover of the book: It's not aggressive, but it's definitely saying, "I am to be reckoned with."
More on Push and Precious
From the August 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!