Sapphire by Kelvin Christopher James

BOMB 57 Fall 1996
Issue 57 057  Fall 1996
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Sapphire. Photo by Cheryl Dunn.

Written in a young girl’s unschooled voice, Push (Knopf) is a harrowing story of a brutalized child’s journey to redemption and relevance. It’s a searing indictment. A sensational read.

We met for lunch at Barocco. I got there early and chose us a quiet corner table, then waited reading the menu, sipping white wine. Right on time Sapphire walked in. Our eyes met and I went over. We hugged each other in greeting. A good looking woman, rich brown skin accented by a dark red dress, well fitting, a neat firm body. Close-cropped hair bearing a nice round head. Big bold eyes. Rude lips of a matter-of-fact mouth that’d laugh or scream or testify with passion. I felt good with her.

Kelvin Christopher James Push is a very dark, Dickensian book. It’s mired in humanity. The characters do the worst to themselves and to each other. Its success surprises me, as recent writing seems to be moving towards the gothic. Did you consider this when writing Push: Be a winner by breaking the trend?

Sapphire What I considered was that we were going to enter into a person’s life who was being damaged, but was not intrinsically damaged. We’re going to enter into and watch the growth of someone who has been emotionally crippled. That was the focal point of the novel. I wasn’t interested in writing a dark, horrible story—a case history or a crime novel. I was interested in how, through all these impediments and all these trials, a human being could still grow. And why they could. I didn’t get an answer in writing the book or in the people I encountered, but it has to do with human nature. It’s human nature for young people to grow and learn. So we enter into Push with Precious doing a natural thing; it only seems bizarre because so many bad things have happened to her, but she just wants what any other kid wants. She wants to live. She wants a boyfriend, she wants to learn, she wants nice clothes …

KCJ That’s why I said Dickensian. I see Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby, but Precious goes through worse times than they did in every way.

S Part of what’s so wrong in this story is that we’re not in a Dickensian era. Those things shouldn’t be happening in a post-industrial society.

KCJ Your character, Precious Jones, and her life could be said to be a caricature of white people’s guilt in producing such disgusting social conditions. Are you turning this guilt against them? Is this a social-conscience novel?

S The novel definitely has areas of social commentary. I don’t really see it as an indictment of white people, I see it as an indictment of American culture, which is both black and white.

KCJ What if it’s white people who control the culture?

S This morning when I woke up to feed my cat, it was me that fed my cat. I had a choice of whether I was going to pet him or kick him. No white people were there. Even within slavery, in our most deprived state, we had choices. Yeah, we’re looking at some people who are horribly, horribly oppressed. We can say that Precious’ mother and father, and many of the people in the culture, find themselves in a steel box, that’s how bad the oppression is. You can sit there in that steel box, you can kill yourself in that box, or you can turn on your young and kill yourself that way. Even when the choices are limited, you still have choices. To me, it is an indictment of the people who created the parents, but it’s also an indictment of the parents. We can see in other circumstances where Precious interacts with people who have choices. The EMS man could have looked at her and said, “What the fuck?” and walked out. He chose to be a human being and say, “I don’t understand this, I don’t know about these people, but here is a child giving birth. Push.” He saved her life.

KCJ He’s the only sympathetic male in the story. Other than Mr. Wicher, who is a wimp.

S He’s not a sympathetic male. He’s a wimp who is terrified, like many inner-city teachers. He’s using her to police other students.

KCJ But he’s the one she says she wants to marry …

S Of course, she’s in fantasyland, and she misunderstands his using her for love. She needs that misunderstanding, the conjecture of fantasy relationships. All this man wants is for her to keep beating up the other kids to keep them from bothering him.

KCJ Am I on the mark when I find that most of the people who take care of Precious have dreadlocks and a West Indian quality?

S I see Precious very much as an individual and as my creative child character: but she can also be a symbol of African Americans. And her first challenge towards growth is that her own xenophobia is called into question. Before the Hispanic man saves her life she says, “What is this spic doing here?” Even as ignorant as she is—she cannot read and write—she comments on him having an accent. Her narrowness, which is created by oppression, reinforces her own oppression. We see that if she is to grow, if she is to overcome her condition on any level, she will have to accept help from people who seem very different to her. Only to a very narrow minded, up-from-the-South black culture would a West Indian or an Hispanic person be so different. But to her it is. Any type of expansion of a human being’s life has to do with expansion of consciousness. There are several points in the novel where Precious could have said “No.” She could have said “No” to the man when he first came to help her. She could have said “No” when she found out Miss Blue Rain was gay. But she keeps saying “Yes.” She keeps entertaining what I think is a very African mentality: she is able to embrace dual paradigms. Precious says, “I believe in Farrakhan, but I also believe in Alice Walker and Miss Rain.” We see a multiple consciousness which is very different from a Western reality.

KCJ Africans have many gods …

S Yeah, in the same way you have Africans who believe in Yoruba and polytheism, and then say, “I’m Christian.” We see the best of her roots come forward in being able to accept this consciousness.

KCJ She doesn’t accept the Jewish woman, her teacher Mrs. Lichenstein, the one who first comes to her house and challenges her.

S Precious can’t appreciate Mrs. Lichenstein, but the reader can. The reader can understand what it means for a white woman to leave her neighborhood and come stand on Lenox Avenue and ring that bell, and be polite while Precious is screaming, “Get out of here Mrs. Lichenstein …” Precious cannot understand that gift until much, much later. Precious has attitude, but that’s what keeps her alive. Attitude.

KCJ You have convincingly portrayed the more horrible experiences of Precious’ life. Do you have an opposite moment that might not have been written into the book?

S I think she has many happy moments in the book.

KCJ She’s going to die. She has HIV.

S We’re all going to die. Miss Rain might die before Precious dies. Precious just knows when and how she will die. Or, maybe she’ll catch a bullet on the way home from school.

KCJ And what will happen to Precious’ baby boy, Abdul?

S Well, we’re all hoping that Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole don’t get in, because then we know that Abdul will be slated for the orphanage. Now, we know that the white, middle-class and gay males with HIV are living 12 years after diagnosis. Precious is very healthy: she has no pre-existing conditions, no other STDs, she was diagnosed early … She may have been infected at 16. Add 12 years to that and what do you get?

KCJ Okay, so she could live to her mid-20s. Maybe until 30.

S Thirty years. And how old will Abdul be?

KCJ He’d then be about ten.

S Ten years with your mother is a lot of time to be infused with some deep love, and you know that she’s a child who knows how to love. He would never forget that. So in the best world, Precious would live to be about 30. That would mean that she would be able to see Abdul through elementary school, and have him recite his Langston Hughes, and be there. He may, if they had proper care, be part of her hospice experience and therapy, and learn what was happening to his mother. That would be the best thing. In the worst world, if she were to become homeless, and had to go back to the shelter, where the people have TB and stuff like that, she would get more sick and die in two or three years: and he would be put into foster care, where he would be raped and abused.

KCJ Is Precious a child who never had anything? Not even sunshine, and the normal days of happiness?

S Well, that’s a lot. Have you ever been in prison and then you got out? You hear them talk about how they enjoy just walking. Here’s someone who has had an almost parallel deprivation. Precious never had a friend, so just to go downtown with her schoolmates Rita and Rhonda is a high point. I imagine Rhonda will start taking her to church at some point.

KCJ Let me tell you something. I read this book with a box of Kleenex next to me. It is so horrid where she lives. Every little touch of kindness that she feels breaks my heart. It’s such a despairing happiness. I want her to have regular happiness.

S Well, the novel is on us. People ask me stupid shit like, “What’s going to happen to her?” You know what’s going to happen to her! The literature program really existed—I used to teach there. Not anymore. The halfway-house really existed. Harlem Hospital—Koch wanted to close it. And they closed Seidenham hospital. If you remove all the medical care, all the educational facilities, then you know what’s going to happen to her. Part of my job as a citizen of America is to see that that doesn’t happen. To see that the literature programs stand, to see that the Harlem hospital stays intact…

KCJ So you write these stark stories …

S That’s part of it. And also, we’re having to look at how black culture looks at women. I would like for her to have a boyfriend, but I couldn’t just make one up. I would like for someone to love her for who she is. I would like for us to be able to look at somebody’s soul and love them. I want that for her.

KCJ When and why did you start writing, and what were your influences?

S First I started writing in journals, and then I started writing poetry. My very early influences were people like Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Don L. Lee—that whole Black Arts movement. Although I wasn’t a part of it.

KCJ They’re predominantly straight people, is that deliberate?

S That was San Francisco, where I was living when I first started to write. But I wasn’t exposed to writers in real life until I started taking dance classes. One of the master dancers in the class was Ntozake Shange. I’m a young woman and I’m like, “Oh my God!” I never saw nothing like this before. It’s much more a feminist woman’s consciousness.

KCJ And the women looked exciting and vigorous.

S They were at the top then. They were doing with words what Tina Turner used to do with her body. And I saw Tina in her prime. She was the most sexually and physically assertive when she was in that Ike and Tina Turner thing. I saw her at the Five Four Ballroom, in the early 70s with the Ikettes. I’d never in my life seen a human being move like that. And these women were doing that with words. Ntozake would come out there and do her thing, and that was a primal influence that freed me. But Don L. Lee and Sonia Sanchez—as a bisexual I didn’t exist in their world. At that time Sonia Sanchez was in The Nation of Islam—I admired that, but I can’t go there. I’m moving a bit more to the left.

KCJ Beyond the physical geography of New York City or San Francisco, where are you from in America?

S I’m from a secret world. I was born and literally spent the first years of my life on an army base. My mother and father met in World War II. My mother was born in 1920, a child of the depression who graduated from high school, which was a big thing in those days. Then in her 20s she ran away and joined the WACS, the colored WACS, it was a segregated unit.

KCJ She ran away to war?

S She wanted to escape poverty and working in a factory. She didn’t do any combat. You know what I mean, they dated the soldiers. My father left the rural South, Texas, and joined the army. They met each other and married—all of my siblings were born on an army base. I didn’t really leave the military life until I was 12 years old. It was another world that I have not yet seen in literature. It was not the ghetto or the rural South, and it definitely was not that fly-in-the-buttermilk, black-person-in-the-suburbs experience. This was raw. The white people there were in the Klan, and the black people there were escapees from poverty. And then you had years and years of war. My father was in World War II and Korea. It was the military. I was raised like that. And then we got into normal life. At 12 I moved to South Philadelphia, a large, urban black environment.

KCJ Another life in the scene.

S Exactly. Even as bad as life in the military was, and I can’t describe how bad it was, under Truman’s time they had desegregated the armed forces, so you couldn’t overtly act out the racist stuff. Even when I was in Texas, the army base schools were integrated while schools outside—you know, they were using firehoses and shit. They were going through a court order to integrate and they wouldn’t do it, but at the base we were already doing that. So then I get to Philadelphia. I remember my first year there, 1963, they had a race riot. For the first time I was exposed to an urban situation … I already had internalized that as a black person I’m an outsider. On the army base, we never had a chance, as blacks, to divide into light-skinned or dark-skinned, or educated, or any kind of faction. We were under siege. But in Philadelphia, the black Northerners made fun of my accent. That’s the most basic thing you have, your physical self and your speech.

KCJ Nobody likes you. You’re an outsider even when you’re inside.

S Exactly. But then from Philadelphia we moved to Los Angeles, another large, urban environment. And that became the rest of my life. Now, I can’t be anywhere but a city.

KCJ Would you now write a gentler, kinder novel, or do you still have material from this world that you want to explore?

S I don’t see things getting gentler and kinder. If I forward, I will go more and more into depth. In this novel I made some big assumptions about my readers, that they would understand certain things. I feel comfortable with that. You can’t write explaining something to the outsider.

KCJ Yeah, some people have said that it is a negative version, right?

S Yeah, but my next book will not be a response to that criticism. I feel that I gave a big picture. It’s not my job as a writer to satisfy you. I’m not trying to jack you off. We’re living in a culture where people are constantly screaming about family values, but I don’t think we’ll win the battle. The only time more children have been out of the control of their family was that Dickensian period of those orphanages. What does it mean in terms of the race and class that I come from—that large masses of my children, metaphorically, are being raised by the state? In foster homes and in jails and in poor schools? That’s something that intrigues me deeply. Even though I’m examining Precious, I’m also examining the family.

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Sapphire. Photo by Cheryl Dunn.

KCJ How do you respond to skeptics, and how do you respond to envy at your success?

S I have lived a very isolated life. I know people are envious of me, I can feel it. But I basically have kept myself away from people. I was upset that my life all of a sudden became so public. I’m used to my work being out there, but not me, literally. Now I’m starting to renegotiate my physical reality, trying to be and make myself safer. And if you’re envious, I’m glad you’re envious. I’m so glad I got something. Hey, I’m a black woman, and I’m 46 years old, you know what I mean? I could write about scrubbing floors because I’ve scrubbed floors; I could write about turning tricks because I’ve turned tricks. I did a lot to get where I am. But I’m glad for what I have and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m the type of person who, even when I had little, I put it to good use.

KCJ So, now that you are well paid by publishers, lauded by the critics, and read by the masses, how do you feel to have arrived: satisfied, justified, or just impatient?

S Number one, I’m real serious, and I’ve always been serious. And I’ve always been serious about my time, knowing that time equals life. I have a brother who is no longer here, my parents are dead, and I understand that one day I’ll be dead too. I don’t want to waste my time and I don’t want to waste my life. I deserve to be paid for my work. I am a little skeptical of the critics, but I’m glad for the positive critical reception. I was on 125th Street on Saturday, and a young girl came up to me and said, “Are you Sapphire? I read your book. It’s the best book I ever read.” That meant something to me. I was in the xerox shop xeroxing a manuscript, and there was this brother in there with his gold chains and his jeans and he looked like he was getting ready to do a rap concert instead of xeroxing, like he was supposed to be doing. I was mad, and I said to myself, “Now if this was a white girl he’d be xeroxing faster, why is this guy taking so long to xerox my shit?” And then he turned around to me with tears in his eyes and he said, “Lady, did you write this here literature?” I said. “Yes, I did.” He said, “This is some bad stuff.” That was before the book was published, when I was xeroxing the galley. Stuff like that, no one can take from me. The black middle-class who are embarrassed because of the subject matter can’t take that from me; the negative black journalist in the Wall Street Journalcan’t take it from me. That’s something. And that has been holding me.

KCJ How does Precious learn to care for Abdul? Where would she learn care from? Nobody ever cared for her in a consistent way. I can see the possibility of a cycle of abuse happening.

S Two things happened, Precious got removed from her house when her mother attacked her and they sent her to a halfway house. We get some intimations that Precious has a positive relationship with the house mother. Often in these halfway houses the women literally go around and teach the girls how to nurture. Part of abuse, not sexual abuse but physical abuse, comes from not knowing what to do. So I see Precious as literally learning the things to do. Early childhood sexual abuse is, to me, like a car accident. We have, say, five people in a car that crashes: one person is killed, one person is paralyzed from the waist down, one person gets up and walks away, one person has psychic trauma for the rest of their life. Different people react differently to abuse. We see that one of the things Precious does, despite being abused, is fantasize about being loved. Some children who have been through that abuse fantasize about cutting the ears off a rabbit, or killing the family cat. So we see that she is pulled by a desire for love and affection. It’s in her makeup to love. That’s not to say that that love might not turn into something else, but it could be nurtured. She goes to a meeting of survivors. When I went to those meetings, women who were psychiatrists and therapists were not there to counsel people, they were actively seeking help on a peer level. We were examining some of the best literature on abuse and post-traumatic shock. That was the type of environment Precious goes to when she goes to that little tacky meeting. That’s one of the first things she’ll learn, that she, more than other people, is in danger of abusing her child. This is beyond social services. What you see here is the self-help network. The Body Positive meeting, and the Survivors of Incest Anonymous meetings are not funded by the state.

KCJ What do you do when you’re not writing?

S I’m very obsessive about writing, so I do a lot of writing which is not writing; journal-taking, notes, and so on. I like to read, and I’m now taking myself back to African dance class, and I’m going to Haitian dance class tonight.

KCJ With all of this love you have in you, what about adopting a child? Taking care of something other than a cat or a dog, another human being?

S I have friends who have adopted, and this is the first time where I’ve felt psychologically healthy enough that I could do it. At a certain point you reach a lack of selfishness. I would like a baby but that’s not the best thing for the world. The best thing would be for me to adopt a six or a seven-year-old.

KCJ It gives somebody a chance.

S Yeah, and they have seven and eight-year-olds, little Abduls, who nobody will ever take. That is definitely something that I’m letting in, it’s part of my healing. Coming in from the outside. For the longest time I had an outsider mentality. My brother was a paranoid schizophrenic who was murdered. He manifested the outsider, and I identified with him deeply. He was all the way out there. But literally. I don’t want to live out there. Part of the past 20 years has been about coming in and seeing myself as part of the human fabric, I’m not so different. Like when the nurse told Precious, “You’re not so special. It’s a lot of motherfuckers who are out there homeless. Get a grip, little girl …” So that’s my thing too, everybody has been pained. When Precious learns to really read and starts reading about Bosnia, she’ll understand that this is a world condition. It will either destroy or empower her. I could see her on television talking about HIV. I could see her doing the very best with what she’s been dealt. And I can also see her going to her primary caretakers, her housemother, her teacher and saying, “How do I prepare for my death?” They had a beautiful article in the New York Timesonce, a young white woman with a terminal disease was trying to find adoptive parents for her child. This is what conscious people do. You don’t run around on a train shaking a cup; that’s not my girl. There’s a way that we’re all being dealt this shit, how are you going to deal with it? That’s what this book is about.

KCJ Do you love Precious?

S I love her. I love everybody in the book, but I love her the most. Everyone says. “Well, the other people in the book aren’t as developed.” Okay, so what? I’m giving voice to the children that I saw.

KCJ Has this book made you a stronger person?

S It has made me stronger. No matter how strong you are, outside validation … I’ve watched black women, and I haven’t seen the same thing in black men, but black women over and over will go to the mirror with positivity and say, “I am beautiful. I am strong.” And then when they go down the street it’s like. “You black bitch.” It hurts them. Even though the females can’t make her beautiful, Precious stops being ugly when she comes to Ms. Rain’s class. In that world she gets to be with other women who are older than her, so they are able to embrace her. She’s not competition, but she’s also not the fat joke that she was with the little kids. She gets some sense of herself. I see them schooling her, telling her how to do her hair, taking her downtown …

KCJ What about women in sports? I believe you get an advantage that men already know from playing sports, that feeling of support. You hit hard, but it’s in the game. It’s not you I’m trying to hurt, but the opponent.

S That’s one of the early things that can be done to empower women. To learn how to kick ass, and to learn how to compete with other people without killing them. What women learn is that competition can kill you, but what you learn with team sports is that at the end of the game, we shake hands. At the end of the male-female competition, you’ve lost the man. But with team sports, there’s something communal. When I teach writing, I teach everyone how to write. The Slave narratives are some of the most important American literature we have. Most of it is not high art, but it’s part of what someone like Toni Morrison can read and make into high art. Most of the time when you listen to those library of Congress folk recordings, they’re not appealing, but when Muddy Waters listens to it, it goes farther. If those other people hadn’t put their voices out there, our experiences wouldn’t be documented. If we say that only a certain people can write, then we’re left with less. For seven years I encouraged women to write their stories, so I’ve got an idea of the collective cosmic pain of women, as opposed to just my own story. As a teacher, you can’t get by me without writing.

KCJ It’s important that you depersonalize your story. In the first book, American Dreams, most of the poems were your stories …

S I needed to depersonalize, but I had no right to tell anyone’s story until I told my own. I felt I could write about Precious’ mother and father raping her because I talked about my mother and father raping me. I’m not making a class statement. I’m not saying that this is what the nigger parents in Harlem do, and what the Cosby parents or the army parents don’t do. I felt that once I laid my things out, I could enter into other people’s lives. I was not coming towards the book as God, I was coming as the wounded writer, and that gave me an authority that I wouldn’t have had if I was not stating where I came from.

KCJ You couldn’t imagine this story of Precious, it would be cruel and wicked to put this upon a regular black family.

S I don’t think that this is what only black people do, you can’t generalize. This is human behavior. This is something that has been going on since time began, and part of becoming conscious is attempting to root out the behavior that no longer serves us. In a society where it causes psychological and emotional breakdown, and the children end up crackheads, then I say stop fucking them. My friend works in homeless shelters and with all of them, over and over, it’s the same story: the mother’s boyfriend raped them. What we’re dealing with is a nation of people in post-traumatic stress. We now know that when the men went to Vietnam and got shot up, they came back unable to cope. Part of what Precious describes and lives in is post-traumatic stress, a reaction to trauma, and you don’t grow like that. It’s warping us.

KCJ I feel embarrassed by the black men in this story.

S Well what about Precious’ Mama? She abuses her too.

KCJ She’s also victim of the black man. It’s not a racist thing, but I prefer to see the white males in authority; the money holders, the buyers and sellers of culture and humanity, as the bad guys—the people who care about money and bottom-line profit before humanity. And now we have the black male who is usually a victim, who never had money or authority when he came to this country, as the guy who is fucking this whole family up.

S One of the myths we’ve been taught is that oppression creates moral superiority. I’m here to tell you that the more oppressed a person is, the more oppressive they will be. As a friend of mine, Black Magic Rainbow, a lawyer and writer explained, the white, sadistic master came to me and said, “Lay down Sapphire. I’m gonna fuck you.” Don’t you know: That’s what he did to Kelvin, and Michael, and John? Don’t you know that part of the black male experience in slavery was repeated rape by white men? So this is what we enter in with, trying to make a family? This is our baggage?

KCJ How would you help a black man out of it? You’re not against black men, are you?

S I’m not at all. Part of it is what we see at the end of the book, with Precious not being separated from her son. That’s the most important thing, that early childhood development is nurturing. I was in Atlanta and a group of black men were reading and one of them started to cry. He talked about being abandoned by his father. A white person might ask me why Farrakhan is in the book. Well, to Precious he’s a positive male role model of today. Twenty years ago I might have put in Malcolm X. A woman cannot give another woman, cannot give a man everything. Somewhere there has to be a positive male. Precious needs male interaction. We need to start thinking of how we can help children like Precious interact with their babies. We must begin to teach young men and women to begin to interact positively with each other. And not to let children be raised alone. Precious is not going to be able to give that boy a father. Where is the young black men’s organization where Precious can take him to spend the day? Where can he learn how to be a man?

KCJ Do you mean like big brother stuff?

S Exactly. That’s how I would start, to get black men and women involved. If push came to shove I wouldn’t care if it was an Asian man or a white man that came up there to take Abdul out to play.

KCJ So you see it as totally beyond race?

S It’s going to have to go beyond race. If we leave it there, then we’re going to be lost. We’re going to have to open up.

KCJ Now what about sexism? What about the fact that we separate people into straight and gay?

S I think some of that is being approached in New York. I think there has to be more interaction if possible. For whatever reasons, my gay characters, Jermaine and Ms. Rain, chose to be a part of their community … But if I was her mother and I saw Jermaine get beat up one more time, I would say, “Take off the necktie and go downtown. Don’t stay up here and get killed.” Just like I wouldn’t go hold hands with a white boyfriend out in Howard Beach. We’re talking about practical, life-saving things. I do think that any outsider has something to teach, and in the black community, the bisexuals and homosexuals have been the outsiders. Look what happened to James Baldwin—the oppression was so great he had to run. He didn’t leave here because he was black, he left here because he was a gay man. He went away where he could be accepted and loved.

KCJ He took France, and a white lover.

S He took someone who could see him as beautiful. He said again and again that his own father used to look at him and say, “You’re ugly.”

KCJ Something you said, that we should leave this culture in America, and go other places to see where we can be loved, and then come back. If we didn’t come back, then all of the art, all of the feeling, all of the sensitivity would go away. We can’t abandon this place.

S There are a lot of different ways to leave. Precious only goes downtown; but she travels. Even by going to school, she’s sitting with a West Indian woman, a Spanish woman, a gay woman, a bisexual woman, her world gets bigger.

KCJ And she has to relate to all of them.

S She better.

KCJ Because they are her support group.

S It’s only white culture that can’t see Precious as a child. I was being interviewed and I referred to Precious as a little girl, and this white woman said, “Who are you talking about?” I said, “Precious: she’s a child.” She’s a baby.

KCJ That’s what I thought was so harrowing about the book. Because this is a child I’m reading about, and I am such a pussyfoot, I can’t deal with that stuff.

S I know that although I’m in the middle of my life, I’m just at the beginning of my life as a writer. I’m not being false and humble, I know that Push is not as well written as The Bluest Eye, it’s not as powerful as The Color Purple, but my girl doesn’t die, you know what I mean? American solutions, the solution to rape and abuse used to be to go crazy and kill yourself. Now the American way is to go on television and embrace talking about it. We have to move forward. We can’t stand still.

KCJ We have the President’s wife making this statement, “It takes a village.” And so, in a way Hillary Clinton has gone out of American solutions. And whether we as Americans accept and employ this solution, that’s another step. I think Push is a wonderful book. You’re itching at us, and forcing us to scratch. I think that you’re a wonderful person. And of course you would be, writing a book like that.

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The writer discusses growing up in the Borscht Belt, the prevalence of literary humor, and the power of feminist punch lines.

Lidia Yuknavitch by Porochista Khakpour

Writing with the body as her touchstone, the novelist channels a woman warrior in The Book of Joan.

Originally published in

BOMB 57, Fall 1996

Featuring interviews with Jasper Johns, Tobias Wolff, Laurie Simmons, Sapphire, Scott Elliott, Brenda Blethyn, Craig Lucas, Suzannah Lessard & Honor Moore, Peter Dreher, and Richard Einhorn.

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Issue 57 057  Fall 1996