Sapphire entered the crowd at Politics and Prose yesterday evening in an unassuming fashion. The slender black female with close-cropped hair, wearing a simple, Mrs. O style sleeveless black dress, appeared to be unflappable and focused. The bookstore, located in upper Northwest, seemed incompatible with the author of such gritty street tales.
Three out of every five audience members were white and the women outnumbered the men. Still, they had no problem easing up to the microphone to timidly ask questions and give praise about Push (her first novel) and The Kid (her newest book — a continuation of Push). The Kid is a book about Abdul, son of Precious Jones, who becomes an AIDS orphan after watching his mother die from the disease in chapter one. HIV/AIDS is a recurring theme in both books, which piqued this Examiner’s interest.
Sapphire did not grant interviews last night, but questions still remained about why AIDS is the chosen kiss of death in Sapphire’s book, why black men should read it, and the message that she is ultimately trying to get across to African Americans. She answered these questions during the question-and-answer portion of the reading.
Questions from the mic (by the DC HIV/AIDS Examiner)
Precious was extremely overweight and could have died from complications due to diabetes or heart disease. She had an horrific home life as the victim of molestation and abuse so she could have been depressed and committed suicide. Why did she have to die from AIDS?
Precious was in the late 1980s. At that time African-American women who were diagnosed with AIDS were something like five times more likely to die from what they called at that time ARC (AIDS Related Complex) than upper middle class white gay men. So she is going to have very little access to antiviral medication and she’s gonna have a high viral load. So she will die at around 27. Heart disease, diabetes and perhaps mental illness that comes from being mentally abused are not going to come into play until she’s in her late 30s. So she died of AIDS.
Do you ever think about men who are infected with HIV by promiscuous women?
To the best of my knowledge (and I have an MFA in poetry), women are ten times more likely to be infected through sexual intercourse than men. So for a woman, because of the nature of her vagina and penile penetration, if the man has AIDS she is more likely to receive AIDS from him than the other way around.
We always seem to look at women as the victims. But it can go both ways.
It certainly can and it certainly does, especially if you talk about drug transmission. This is one text, but there are many other books being written that look at the other end of transmission.
Why should black men read this book?
This is about a black man. That was the end of Precious on that first page. This is about a black man. This is about the fact that 40 percent of men and maybe more with African-American men have experienced some kind of sexual abuse the same way that women have. It’s always been thought that women were the primary recipients of childhood sexual abuse, but one of the places where [it happens] and of course it got blown open was the Catholic Church, and we really got a good look at what many have already known. Many men are the victims and often the survivors of sexual abuse. So this book [The Kid] looks at the cycle of abuse. It looks at the child abuser. And it looks at the difficulty that a child like Abdul is going to have as he tries to establish a healthy psychosexual life as an adult because of what has happened to him. So it may not be a book for all men, but but I can see where this would be of great interest to men.
Question asked at the signing table (by the DC HIV/AIDS Examiner)
What is your charge to the African-American community regarding HIV/AIDS? What’s the message?
I think each text is different. So Push has a different message and it’s more about AIDS. The social issues in Push almost swallow the text. They become bigger than Precious. In here [The Kid] the story devours the social issues. It becomes more character driven. By the time the novel ends, he is affected by AIDS. AIDS is a part of his life. He’s an AIDS orphan. But it’s not the driving thing in the text. The text ends in Push with the virus being in her blood. Here we have a kid affected by the stigma and he’s embarrassed because he wants to be middle class. The kids are telling him that his mother was a ‘ho’ and that’s why she died from AIDS. So what this text does is describes a world that has been altered by AIDS and will never be the same. You can get whatever message you want from it.
The Kid is in bookstores now or can be ordered on Amazon.com.
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