Bestselling Novelist & Poet
Author of PUSH—the inspiration for
the Academy Award-winning movie Precious
"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 Publisher's 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.
About THE KID (Novel, 2011)
In The Kid Sapphire tells the electrifying story of Abdul Jones, the son of Push's unforgettable heroine, Precious. A story of body and spirit, rooted in the hungers of flesh and of the soul, The Kid brings us deep into the interior life of Abdul Jones. We meet him at age nine, on the day of his mother's funeral, and the novel moves forward to tell of a twenty-first-century young man's fight to find a way toward the future. A testament to the ferocity of the human spirit and the deep nourishing power of love and of art, The Kid chronicles a young man about to take flight. In the intimate, terrifying, and deeply alive story of Abdul's journey, we are witness to an artist's birth by fire.
About PUSH (Novel, 1996)
“You feel you’ve witnessed nothing less than the birth of a soul.”
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' 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 (excerpt)
About 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.
About 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