Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sapphire Book Tour Review

July 17, 2011

Sapphireis no joke. That’s the first thing that goes through my mind as she takes the stage to read from her newest novel, “The Kid.” Prior to that, I sit mystified. Yes it’s a warm perfect summer night but who the heck would not want to be inside the cement tinderbox basement of Elliot Bay’s dungeon to listen to an author whose previous work produced an Academy Award winning movie?

I am shocked the crowd is small. Fifteen minutes before the program is to start, I count twenty seven people but I expected over a hundred. I see the faces of the regulars who like myself, attend author readings regularly. Some Sapphire fans are reading her newest novel but many of the audience are engaged in political discussions. (More later) At exactly 7pm, the basement fills faster than a Nordstrom’s half off sale and the staff sets up another thirty chairs. Why do people decide to show up late to these things? And why did the two gay men next to me reek of onions? Damn it, I got a good seat too. It’s not the smell that irritates me it’s the audience.

Putting it blunt, where are the black people? Famous African American authors are few and far between on the speaking circuit. The Seattle African American community, show up in force when Toni Morrison, Terry McMillian, or Walter Mosley came to town but not tonight. Why? What is it about Sapphire that causes such a low turnout from the very community she comes from?

The room is not void of the African American community but the house is filling up faster and faster with that demographic I find highly entertaining/irritating: ex-hippies.

These are mainly female, white middle class AARP eligible folks, who attend lectures like this as a means of connecting to the kind of people they never grew up around. They are an intellectual know-it-all, crowd of elite snobs and prior to the author’s arrival I listen to the opinions of white people speaking up about the problems in poor black communities. Now, I have no problem with people having a point of view, (heck I write a blog) but what makes this gaggle of Subaru driving, left wing Glen Becks experts on the world of Sapphire?

Conversation volume is turned up as they shout their opinions over one another
to promote their personal causes; while trying to tell anyone in earshot that only they understand what the clueless masses don’t understand.Their sentences usually start with “I don’t understand people who…” or end sentences with “these guys don’t get it.”

I love it. Can’t wait to see how the speaker handles the Q & A session because I know some of these people are going to try to hijack the evening. This is why author readings can be so entertaining and here I continue to wait among the stench of onion on strangers.

Of course, Sapphire is not a pretender like these sycophants. She understands the plight of her novels subjects and the demons that fail those in social service organizations. She is a political voice of intelligent activism and when hearing her speak tonight there is little doubt she knows what she is talking about.

Anybody who has ever read Sapphire’s debut the novel “Push” which turned into the academy award winning movie “Precious” are aware of the novels harsh subjects covering incest, rape, illiteracy, domestic abuse and AIDS among the African American community. I’ve never read the book, but when flipping through sections of “Push” but I know someone has talent when their writing makes me physically ill.

Her newest novel “The Kid” is the tragic follow up to “Push” The book begins with Precious, having died of AIDS leaving her nine year old son, Abdul to the government social service system. This is Abdul’s story. A tale of abuse and choice that leaves him with a crack of hope in a world that has damned him to life in institutions.

Tonight, despite a hectic day of interviews, Sapphire finds the energy to read sections from the book as if she is trying to impress the audience: it works.

The author’s background (a veteran of the Slampoet circuit) serves both she and the audience well. It wasn’t a reading but a performance.

She has complete command of the stage. Maybe I shouldn’t be impressed given Sapphire’s background. Maybe I should have expected this magnificent reading tonight but night after night of hearing bad readings performed by unrehearsed authors has made me numb. I don’t write about all of them. So when I see an author on stage, remarkable as Sapphire was this evening, I appreciate the effort and I wish to God others were here as well.

“The Kid” is a collection of hard words describing a hard world and Sapphire’s talent makes these words palatable. She reads prepared comments off hand written notes, then reads sections of the novel as we follow Abdul’s journey.
She explains a lot of the novel. In fact she reads almost too much to entice the reader into buying the book. Thankfully, Sapphire doesn’t give away the ending, but she doesn’t leave much for the audience to discover about Abdul either.

The audience follows Abdul at his mother’s death bed to the bureaucratic nightmare of Foster homes, disconnected family relationships, self-awakening and graphic sexual abuse (both as victim and perpetrator)

Oh and sidebar about Sapphire. I loved her fearless nature. I loved how she called Andrew Sullivan a racist for his insensitive comments. It really frosted my cake, however, when during the Q & A session, she said Abdul should not be considered a pedophile because he himself is only a child.
So when fourteen year old Abdul sexually molests another boy in the orphanage what does that make him? A pedophile or a rapist of minors?

As I said it is a hard world that Sapphire writes about.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, it makes him an average boy at a British boarding school around the turn of the century (someone ought to write a book about that)... but more to the point, thanks for the great write-up! "A collection of hard words about a hard world" indeed.