Walking down 125th Street in Manhattan last month, the author Sapphire was stopped by a librarian who told her in an amazed tone how “Push” just won’t die. After a healthy shelf-life following its publication in 1996, the novel — which narrates the tale of Precious Jones, an 80’s-era abused and illiterate teenage girl who learns to read and take charge of her life — is once again atop the bestsellers list thanks to interest spinning from an award-winning film adaptation by director Lee Daniels. Just nominated for eight NAACP image awards, the film — renamed “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” — has grossed nearly $44 million so far and is on its way to winning other awards for stars Mo’Nique and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. Sapphire recently spoke to us about the evolution of her book.
The Wall Street Journal: Though “Push” was a best-selling book when it was released, now, thanks to the movie, a whole new generation feels as if they’re discovering the book for the first time.
Sapphire: It’s not just a new generation that’s discovering the book, it’s a new population. Because I had been a poet, that’s the way it was originally promoted and it really went strongly into the social service segment of the population. For example, it was used as a teaching tool at Hunter College and psychiatrists at Harlem hospitals used it to show the inner mindset of a rape survivor, and in 2007, a whole conference was dedicated to it at Arizona State. So it had it’s own world, but it hadn’t crossed over into popular literature yet. Now, its spreading beyond the coasts, and hitting the Midwest and the South and I’m excited. Because now, no one is mistaking “Precious” for a documentary. People just want to see where the movie came from. It’s like when I ran out to buy “One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Godfather” in the 1970s; I wanted to see the literary document the movie sprang from.