Sapphire: Life After

There are many writers who have been scribing for years before they suddenly write that one book that gains international notoriety, and the writer becomes an instant celebrity.  This is what happened to Ramona Lofton, or better known to the world as her pen name Sapphire.  The writer had been established in New York’s poetry scene long before publishing her groundbreaking book, Push, in 1996.  The story is about Claireece "Precious" Jones, an abused 16-year-old black teen living in 1980s Harlem.  The book arose from Sapphire’s own experience working with at-risk youth during that time.

The book was adapted into Lee Daniels’ 2009 Academy Award-winning film Precious.  However, with praise also came criticism about the portrayal of black women in the film version.  I talked to Sapphire at the Harlem Book Fair where she was doing a reading about the film’s backlash, what is great writing and what she is writing about these days.

 Many black critics highlighted at the time of the film’s release that it portrayed the black family as dysfunctional, especially the relationship between Precious and her mother.  Sapphire said that she knew ahead of the movie coming out that there would be critics – or “haters” as she calls them - of the storyline. 

“I knew people would be negative,” she said, “but I was more surprised by the movie which took a lighter approach than the book.”

The book was actually more graphic in many aspects than the film adaptation, but Sapphire said that this was possibly done to get a lower Motion Picture Association rating.  Furthermore, she said the film adaptation “didn’t need to go there.”

Sapphire was also surprised by the criticism of colorism in the film.  “I hated the comments about Precious being dark-skinned, and Blue Rain [Precious’ teacher] was light-skinned.  I just hated it when people made these comparisons.  They made no sense to me.”

Push has also been frequently included on many banned book lists.

Currently, she is promoting her latest book, The Kid, which is a sequel to Push.  The book follows Precious’ son, Abdul, as he goes through the foster care system, where he is both the victim and victimizer of sexual abuse and finding his calling as a dancer.

“I wanted to develop Abdul’s character in this book,” she said, “and I would like to write another book about Abdul in the future.  But for now I am writing another book on a totally different subject.”
On the subject of good writing, Sapphire said “anyone can learn to be a great writer,” regardless of their personality.  As a matter of fact, she said Emily Dickinson was one of the greatest writers, although she was a recluse who spent most of her life in her bedroom.

Whatever she is writing about, Sapphire said she wants to inspire her readers, no matter what other people might think.

“I became a writer because I really want to do something meaningful for others.”    

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