Sapphire talks to Arifa Akbar in The Independent:
Shortly after the publication of her first novel, Push, which told the story of an obese, illiterate, black teenager abused by her mother and raped by her father, Sapphire was informed by a prominent African American magazine that it would not be featuring a review. Essence magazine's boycott was a defining moment for Sapphire. The story of Claireece Precious Jones, written phonetically in a vivid stream-of-conscious outpouring, remained below the radar for 13 years. Then, in 2009, it hit the New York Times bestseller list after a film adaptation by Lee Daniels (entitled Precious) which stunned audiences at the Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto festivals, won two Oscars, and made an unlikely heroine out of Precious Jones. She finds freedom, of sorts, despite having two babies by her father and contracting HIV from his abuse. Sapphire has a theory for why the book was disdained by Essence in 1996. “I think people thought maternal abuse made the black community look bad,” she says.
As one of the first books to lay open the character of the violent, sexually abusive mother-figure, it had perhaps too taboo a topic, although “I felt like saying 'I'm not trying to hurt you. Don't shoot the messenger'”. The then editor eventually wrote Sapphire a letter of apology. The magazine has, 15 years on, been among the first to review her second novel, The Kid (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99). An urban Bildungsroman featuring Precious's orphaned son, Abdul Jones, it is just as explicit, and damning, in its depiction of a forgotten underclass. Push's story of illiteracy, undetected abuse and social deprivation was a deliberate reflection on the failures of the American welfare system. It is rare that these fringes of existence are ever exposed, co-existing next to extreme affluence, and there is always disbelief when they are, she suggests.