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A Precious Sapphire

16 Sep 2009

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Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square was mesmerized last Saturday (Sept. 12th) with a powerful reading by poet-novelist Sapphire from her book entitled Push. The book was originally published in 1997 and struck a chord with many readers. The book''s main character, Claireece "Precious" Jones, endures unimaginable hardships in her young life through mental and physical abuse from the hands of those who were supposed to love her the most. Her father has impregnated her twice and her mother continually belittles her and assaults her dignity. The power and tone of Precious'' voice in the book is gut wrenchingly raw and honest.

When asked why she called the book Push, Sapphire replied "In the beginning of the book there''s the scene where [twelve-year-old] Precious is giving birth. I was trying to get across that very basic, primal female energy of bringing forth life. There is something very aggressive and assertive about being a female. We''re taught to be very laid-back and passive, but if we''re to survive, if we''re to move forward, we have to have that pushing energy."

An openly bisexual woman who has experienced some of the hardships that her book’s character endures, Sapphire tackles important issues such as sexual abuse and homophobia. Precious learns to come to terms with and move on from her own abuse while also confronting her own latent homophobia through her interactions with an alternative school teacher named Ms Rain.

Sapphire is a New York-based writer of prose and poetry whose other works include Black Wings & Blind Angels: Poems (2000) and American Dream (1996). She was in town to promote the film version of her book entitled Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film adaptation picked up the heavyweight backing of both Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey after it screened at this year''s Sundance Film Festival.

AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to interview Sapphire on the opening night of the film at Roy Thompson Hall on Sunday. When we asked her if she saw herself as a poet or novelist first, she replied that she is "a poet who wrote a novel." She also mentioned that she has no problem with people referring to the movie based on her book as "the new Color Purple".

She added that she had read The Color Purple over ten times and that she in a way saw her own work as an "urban version" of The Color Purple.
In a previous conversation she had also declared: "I wanted to let this whole new generation who''s gonna read Push know that it was born out of The Color Purple and the other books I mention. I don''t think I could have written Push if Alice Walker had not written The Color Purple, or if Toni Morrison had not written The Bluest Eyes. They kicked open the door. The content of Push may not be so problematic now, but can you imagine what it would be like if nothing had come before it?"

Sapphire was evidently very emotional at the Sunday morning press conference for the film at Yorkville’s Four Seasons Hotel. She was accompanied by the impressive line-up of talent associated with the film which included: director Lee Daniels, co-producers Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, Gabourey Sidibe (who plays the role of Precious in the film), Paula Patton (Ms Rain), Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd and R&B queen Mary J. Blige.

The emotion in the room was palpable as several members of the panel revealed how deeply they personally related to Precious.

Oprah said that the Precious girls of the world "had been invisible" to her. "The Message from this film is that none of us who sees that movie can now walk through the world and allow the Preciouses of the world to be invisible to us again" she added.

Mary J. Blige also added: "When I saw this film all I could think about is growing up in my neighbourhood and seeing that girl."

Mariah Carey said that she had discovered the original book years ago and had been powerfully moved by it. She read it twice back to back. When Ms Carey stopped over to speak to AfroToronto.com on the red carpet, we asked her how she felt the film was different from the book. She told us that she loved the process of translating the book into film and that it was a whole new experience for her."It''s still the same work but it''s now a collaboration. ... We were crying between scenes" she told us.

Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire opens in the U.S. and Canada in November.

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