Acclaimed novelist Sapphire pushes boundaries with poetry and prose

Sapphire, author of the best-selling novel “Push,” spoke at the Davis Center’s Grand Maple Ballroom on Nov. 9 in a talk entitled “Push, Precious, and Black Women in Literature.” A poet, public speaker, performer and award-winning novelist, Sapphire has received much acclaim for her literary works. Her national best seller “Push” was recently adapted into the Academy Award winning movie “Precious,” interim provost Jane E. Knodell said in her introduction. Sapphire’s talk drew a large crowd — almost filling the Grand Maple Ballroom. Students, professors and community members came to hear her lecture.  “I loved it,” sophomore Felicia Mensah said. “It was very insightful. I read her book and seeing her talk about the black community was very moving.” The topic of the book and discussion, “Push” deals with contemporary issues of literacy and education and the affect they have on black women.  Sapphire said she is a strong advocate for education.  “I believe education can make a difference in women’s lives no matter how far on the socio-economic ladder they may be,” she said. Sapphire said her passion for the awareness of education is what inspired her to write “Push.” After an encounter with the women whom “Push” was based on, Sapphire was motivated to tell her story. “I honestly believed if we told the truth of those around us, we can bring about change,” she said. Sapphire spoke about a time in her life when she did not write. Her eighth grade teacher, who she described as a black middle-class woman, was the one that discouraged her. Sapphire’s teacher told her that it was “impossible to believe that her kind could produce anything.”  Sapphire said she blamed herself for this encounter.  “I wondered what was wrong with me. It actually took me 30 years to wonder what was wrong with her.”  Sapphire’s new attitude led her to take a second look at women and literature, allowing her to write again. She recognized that the relationship between black men and women was usually portrayed as sad, so she decided to explore the female reality.  She described romantic love as being the core of most literature and wanted to do something different with “Push.” She instead put language at the center of “Push” instead of romance, she said. “‘Push’ places literacy over romantic love,” she said.  Sapphire described “Push” as exposing truths through the realm of fiction. “I chose to go into the gray area of fiction, to write some inconvenient truths,” she said. With that, Sapphire ended her talk and was awarded with a standing ovation by the crowd.  “I thought it was great. She was so lyrical, especially when she was reading the poetry,” senior integrated professional studies major Kathy Manning said. When asked about what she is working on next, Sapphire shared that she has a novel called “The Kid” coming out in May 2011.