The author known as Sapphire, center, poses with members of the Black Student Union at California University of Pennsylvania, from left, Ronald Taylor, Ashley Munoz-Briggs, Marquia Parnell and Melinda Quinerly. (Scott Beveridge photo/Cal U. backdrop)
CALIFORNIA, Pa. – The author and poet known as Sapphire fielded questions tonight from members of the Black Student Union at California University of Pennsylvania. Her novel, “Push,” about a physically and sexually abused, overweight black girl in 1980s Harlem has been adapted into the Oscar-nominated movie, “Precious.”
Q. What was the inspiration for the book?
A. My major inspiration was the experiences I had living in Harlem. I was just blown away by some of the lives of my students. I wanted to document them on paper.
Q. Was Precious a real person?
A. Precious is known as a composite character composed of many different people.
Q. Why suffer the entire book without a good ending?
A. That’s what you call reality. A lot of Hollywood stories are based on fantasy. You lose weight, find a husband and ride off into the sunset. I wanted the world to look at what happens to some segments of the population.
Q. Did you like the movie?
A. I was really emotionally drawn into the movie within the first few minutes. It was surprising, shocking. I also thought it was very beautifully done.
Q. Why the title “Push?”
A. In the book several scenes have the action word push, push. The first time it was used Precious was giving birth to her baby as a young teenager, and an angel, medic tells her to push. Again, she is so far behind her teacher resorts to telling her to push.
Q. Is everything in the movie true”
A. Everything in the book is true. Everything in the movie is not true.
Q. Did you think the movie would become a success?
A. I was thinking I would have to get on the phone and call my friends to fill the theater. I thought it would play a two-week run at a New York art-house.
Q. How are black people reacting to the story?
A. The portrayal of the mother and father, they find it problematic. It’s OK to read about it in the newspaper, but people don’t it fictionalized. They say, why can’t you write a more positive portrayal of the black family?
Q. Did you feel pain writing the book?
A. When you write about something, it’s not painful. The painful part is living it.
Q. What one message did you want to give?
A. The power of language and the ability of human beings to transform themselves through language, education is the message I wanted to give. Your education can change your life.