On July 5, Penguin Press will publish The Kid. It's poet and author Sapphire's sequel to Push, the best-selling 1996 novel about an overweight, abused, illiterate and HIV-positive New York teen-ager that became a cultural phenomenon and the Oscar-winning film Precious.
Sapphire appears Feb. 7 at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series. She spoke with City Paper from her home in New York City.
What's different about The Kid?
It's much longer [than Push]. It's around 400 pages. And the subject matter is much more difficult than the subject matter was in Push. With Precious we had a totally redemptive character, a character who it would take a really mean person not to eventually come to respect and love. She in her own way embodies all the values that we in America value: independence, hard work, the willingess and ability to get up when we fall. And in addition, she had a big heart.
[In The Kid,] we look at a character [Precious's son] who doesn't have all of those qualities. We look at a more flawed human being and we are drawn into his universe. We meet him at the age of 9 and we leave him at 19. I really wanted to show some of the challenges just from my viewpoint that African-American boys are facing in the culture today.
What will you speak about in Pittsburgh?
I will ... be talking a lot about my development as a poet and how that moved into me becoming a novelist, and different writers who have influenced me.
One of them is Lucille Clifton. She is actually such a dominant presence in my psyche that she appears in the novel Push. Precious will be very proudly reading off a list of children's books her son has learned to read. And one of the books will be a book by Lucille Clifton.
[Another poet] who I'll be looking at is a woman called Ai. Her work was very, very on the edge, exploring issues of violence, issues of transgressive sexuality, issues of transnationalism, biraciality and things like that.
Sapphire at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series 7:30 p.m. Mon., Feb. 7. Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. $10-25. 412-622-8866 or www.pittsburghlectures.org