sapphire

Sapphire

Bestselling Novelist & Poet
Author of PUSH-the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning movie Precious

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • PUSHing Boundaries
  • When PUSH comes to Precious
  • PUSHing Boundaries in THE KID: Literature, Trauma & Healing
  • It Takes A Village: Recovering Our Children Through Literature & Literacy
  • The “Second” Novel
  • African American Women’s Literature & Me
  • African Americans in Literature & Literacy


FYE6“Few literary works today are as affecting as [Sapphire’s] or have had as much impact on our society.” —Poets & Writers

“Precious tunnels inside your head, leaves you moved like no film in years and then lifts you up in ways you don’t see coming. Despite the pain at the story’s core, the movie has a spirit that soars.” —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Famed in the worlds of literature, literacy, and poetry—and an extraordinary public speaker—Sapphire is the author of two bestselling novels, Push and The Kid.

The New York Times bestseller, Push—about an illiterate, brutalized Harlem teenager—won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction; the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s First Novelist Award; and in Great Britain, the Mind Book of the Year Award. Push was named by The Village Voice as one of the top twenty-five books of 1996 and by TimeOut New York as one of the top ten books of 1996. Push was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction. It was made into the Academy Award-winning major motion film, Precious, and the film adaptation received the Academy Award for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.

In her second novel, The Kid, Sapphire gives voice to Precious’s son, telling the electrifying story of Abdul Jones. Left alone by his mother’s death to navigate in a world where love and hate sometimes hideously masquerade, forced to confront unspeakable violence, his history, and the dark corners of his own heart, Abdul claws his way toward adulthood. In a generational story that moves with the speed of thought from a Mississippi dirt farm to Harlem in its heyday, from a troubled Catholic orphanage to downtown artists’ lofts, The Kid is a soaring tale of body and spirit, rooted in the hungers of flesh and of the soul. Says editor Ann Godoff, “Sapphire never fails to render the hardest material comprehensible by coming from a place of love. In her second novel, she fearlessly explores the young life of an African American boy as he approaches manhood: alone, brutalized and with the soul of an artist.”

Sapphire is also the author of two collections of poetry: American Dreams, cited by Publishers Weekly as, “One of the strongest debut collections of the nineties;” and Black Wings & Blind Angels, of which Poets & Writers declared, “With her soul on the line in each verse, her latest collection retains Sapphire’s incendiary power to win hearts and singe minds.” Library Journal calls Sapphire’s poetry “spiky and uncompromising” and describes her as a “poet of slick-talking, nearly hallucinatory riffs on growing up poor, tough, and black in America.”

Sapphire’s presentation, poetry, novels, and the film Precious, all speak to issues of overcoming adversity and empowerment.

Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, the film adaption of Sapphire’s novel won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. It won the 2009 Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Awards in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance, and is the only film ever to win both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals Audience Awards. Precious is a vibrant, honest, and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Called “the most painful, poetic and improbably beautiful film of the year” by The Washington Post, Precious follows the harrowing tale of an African American teenager, who, despite being abused, pregnant and illiterate, turns her world around. A. O. Scott of the New York Times writes, “[J]ust as Push achieves an eloquence that makes it far more than a fictional diary of extreme dysfunction, so too does Precious avoid the traps of well-meaning, preachy lower-depths realism. It howls and stammers, but it also sings.”

Sapphire’s work has been translated into thirteen languages and has been adapted for stage in the United States and Europe. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in The Black Scholar, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Teacher’s Voice, The New Yorker, Spin, and Bomb. She has performed her work at the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café, Franklin Furnace, the Bowery Poetry Club, Literaturwerkstadt in Berlin, and Apples & Snakes in London.

In 2007 Arizona State University presented PUSHing Boundaries, PUSHing Art: A Symposium on the Works of Sapphire. She has taught literature, fiction, and poetry workshops at SUNY Purchase, Trinity College, and the Writer’s Voice in New York City. She has taught graduate writing workshops in MFA programs at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Brooklyn College, and at the New School University. In 1990 she received an Outstanding Achievement in Teaching Award from Joyce Dinkins, then First Lady of New York City, for her work with literacy students in Harlem and the Bronx.


Sapphire is the author of two bestselling novels, Push and The Kid. Push was made into the Academy Award-winning major motion film Precious, and the film adaptation received the Academy Award for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Sapphire’s work has been translated into thirteen languages and has been adapted for stage in the United States and Europe. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in The Black Scholar, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Teacher’s Voice, The New Yorker, Spin, and Bomb.


PUSH (Novel, 1996)

“You feel you’ve witnessed nothing less than the birth of a soul.” —Entertainment Weekly

Precious Jones lives in a world worse than the one inhabited by the character Celie in The Color Purple. She, too, is a victim of abuse. At 16, Precious finds herself pregnant again by her father, untrained, uneducated, and unable to care for herself or her baby. She is astute enough to know that there is a better way to live but is clueless as to how to get there. Fortunately for Precious, she meets a black teacher, Ms. Blue Rain, who pushes her to change with encouragement and inspiration. Ms. Rain challenges Precious to learn to read and write and improve her way of life. In her literacy class, Miss Rain instructs all of her students to maintain a journal; readers experience Precious’s transformation in her journal entries. Her development and growth are astonishing in the short period of time we share her writings. Push is an intense work, both heartbreaking and frightening. —Booklist

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE (Film, 2009)
Gabourey Sidibe brims with grit and grace in her debut as Claireece “Precious” Jones, a sixteen-year-old African-American girl living in 1980s Harlem. When the pregnant Precious isn’t stealing food or ducking punches from her abusive mother (Mo’Nique), she’s barely coping with the ninth grade. Unable to read or write, she is emotionally shut down at school. But in her daydreams, she possesses an unshakable sense that other possibilities exist for her. When she is offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, her instincts tell her this is the chance she has been waiting for. With the help of her teacher (Paula Patton), her social worker (Mariah Carey), her nurse (Lenny Kravitz), and her classmates, Precious forms a supportive network that helps her move toward a self-determined future. An emotional powerhouse that deserves its place among the year’s best films.

BLACK WINGS & BLIND ANGELS (Poetry, 1999)
Sapphire became a semi-celebrity for the harsh poems of abuse and recovery in her first book, American Dreams; she then made waves for the huge advance on her novel Push. This second volume of verse finds her less aggressive, mixing her hostilities and anxieties with a newly bemused nostalgia….Among the free-verse persona poems, Sapphire even strews a few sestinas. This isn’t to say she’s gone soft: as in Push, her compulsively consumable stories of trauma explore the far reaches of hell before coming up for air and angels. As if to remind us that she’s still dangerous, one of the volume’s central images is a so-called Indian wolf trap—a salt lick that hides a razor. —Publishers Weekly  


THE KID (excerpt)

In the dream it’s Mommy’s birthday party and she’s holding me in her arms kissing me and dancing with me. Our house is smelling like lasagna, wine, and people, mostly girls sweating and perfume. One girl is smoking weed. Everyone is laughing. Mommy puts me down and goes to open her presents. She’s sitting in the blue armchair under the light. All the people have presents in their hands and are holding them out to her. A lady, who looks nice but when she smiles all her teeth is black, is holding out a pretty present tied with a gold ribbon. No! No! NOOOO! I want to say, but no words come out of my mouth, and Mommy takes the box. And I want to stay asleep, even though I know it’s a bomb and I’m not dreaming anymore, and if I was dreaming, the bomb would be exploding now. And now that it’s too late, my voice would be loud.

—from chapter 1

PUSH (excerpts)

My name is Claireece Precious Jones. I don’t know why I’m telling you that. Guess ’cause I don’t know how far I’m gonna go with this story, or whether it’s even a story or why I’m talkin'; whether I’m gonna start from the beginning or right from here or two weeks from now. Two weeks from now? Sure you can do anything when you talking or writing, it’s not like living when you can only do what you doing. Some people tell a story ‘n it don’t make no sense or be true. But I’m gonna try to make sense and tell the truth, else what’s the fucking use? Ain’ enough lies and shit out there already?

—from chapter 1

I don’t have nothing to write today—maybe never. Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drowning. My head all dark inside. Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now. Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious. I say I drowin’ in river. She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you! Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side. One time in your journal told me you had never really told your story. I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

—from chapter 3

TODAY

Today is the day you have been waiting for
when you would finally begin to live
when you would at last open the door

This is the what, the circumstance, the more
you have been withholding, saving to give.
Today is the day you have been waiting for

when you could sit down to your desk for
hours, take pride, time, find out what work is,
when you would at last open the door

to your own self-development, what god has for
you. Today is the day you come out of prison, live.
Today is the day you’ve been waiting for

the tomorrow you pined away yesterday for.
I think love rhymes in a way with give.
You at last open the door

to the possibility of now, the core
of life is the moment, now, how you live.
Today is the day I have been waiting for
when you would at last open the door

HUMPTY DUMPTY HEART

my heart leaks knowing
since you shot my sheets
with light,
lifting me out of my skin
past sky.

i look for your tongue in light
& listen to tales of a new daughter
apartments, mortgages, wife;
knowing i was just a blurred night-
black, whited-out & lost.

out the blue you call back the years
like a movie reel rewinding,
after six deaf years i hear
you want to come over.

the silence of blind rooms
goads me to balance
humpty dumpty like
one more time the weight of light.

& i would,
but for the bleeding yolk
that lies in cracked knowing-
once it’s eaten
it’s over.

BROKEN

I think everything in me has been broken. The shiny ceramic red heart lies on the floor in shards, its light that used to flash electric now glows steady in the dark. Outside the window I watch the souls of my mother and father wrapped in black shawls ride down the river, weird water, in strange boats. They are without hearts, liver, feet-except soles, they are all souls now. I am here in my time, lit, broken, fire burning, full of holes. Vibrating at last, light, life, mine. At last, broken.

—from Black Wings & Blind Angels