Sapphire and Influence

Last year, when poet and novelist Sapphire visited USC, we asked our

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Saphhire

students to come up with questions for her visit. The students had read Push, Sapphire’s “underground classic” that was made into the film Precious.

One of the students wrote:

“I was surprised and touched to see a quote from the Talmud in the introductory pages (of PUSH): “Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”  I love this quote because it really almost undermines the Job-like quality of life within the book.  While Precious should curse her maker for her life, she is astoundingly resilient.  I have to assume that’s at least part of why this book is so popular.  The Talmud, while old and full of wisdom, is not oft quoted by lay persons.  Where did you come across this quote and what does it mean to you?”

I don’t know which of our MPW students wrote this question (if you read this blog post, let me know!)  but it goes to the heart of so much about writing practice, and it also speaks to the presence of 9781594203046H1-197x300influences in Sapphire’s new book, The Kid (Penguin 2011).   Precious’ journey is so much about coming into language, learning to read, to write, to articulate her experiences, and she becomes influenced not only by her teachers and classmates but also by poets such as Lucille Clifton.  The Kid’s protagonist is Abdul Jones, Precious’ child– and he inherits his mother’s love of story and of the word. His journey is harrowing…indeed The Kid makes Precious look like Anne of Green Gables.   Sapphire’s influences–the poets Ai and  Gerard Manley Hopkins,  Flannery O’Connor, Basquiat, and many others– hover above and below the surface of the text.   When I read The Kid I thought about the challenge it’ll raise for many readers, even sophisticated ones.    I also thought of John Cage’s  response to some of the questions that his compositions raised in the mind of a harmony-loving and bereft audience: “I am going toward violence rather than tenderness, hell rather than heaven, ugly rather than beautiful, impure rather than pure — because by doing these things they become transformed, and we become transformed.”

Sapphire will be reading from THE KID reading at Eso Won Books on Friday, July 22.

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