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.”
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
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.”
Labels: black women, film criticism, Lee Daniels, Precious, Push, Sapphire, Talia Whyte