Paperback : 29 Sep 2011
Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren't trusted not to steal the silver...
There's Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son's tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.
Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they'd be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...
The Help - Film Trailer
How did the book come about? When did you begin writing it?
I was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Even though half our town’s population was white and half was black, it was one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. Blacks and whites rarely shopped in the same stores, attended the same high schools or lived in the same neighborhoods. Despite this, one of the closest people to me was black- our maid, Demetrie. She cleaned, she cooked, and she took care of us, the white children.
Demetrie started working for my grandmother in 1955, and I loved Demetrie dearly. She wasn’t our mother, so it wasn’t her job to discipline us or make us sit up straight. There was a point in my childhood, after my parents divorced, when I didn’t feel like I was worth much. I remember Demetrie standing me in the mirror and telling me, “You are beautiful, you are important.” That is an incredible gift to give a child who doesn’t think much of herself.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how much she’d done for me. That’s when I started writing The Help.
Is the book, "The Help" autobiographical?
The Help is definitely fiction, but I was thinking about my own maid, Demetrie, when writing the voice of Aibileen.
Honestly, I have never been as brave as Skeeter. I wish I was more like her. She took a stand for what she believed in, ready to suffer the consequences. She stood up for inequality and suffered the ridicule of her friends, the risk of being arrested, and losing the one man who loved her.
It was a heck of a lot easier for me to write a book, fifty years after the trouble had died down, than it was for Skeeter.
Black women have traditionally raised white children in the heart of moneyed US - the southern states. What is it that makes white children bond better with black women?
I can’t say that white children bond better with black women, but children are color-blind. They have no preconceived ideas of race. I know I loved Demetrie because of who she was and the ways that she loved me and made me feel important. Color is not an issue until we are taught so.
The book travels back to the Sixties - did you see that turbulent decade in America? How did you recreate the era which comes across as so vivid in the book.
I was born in 1969. Although the racial violence had calmed down, not that much had changed in the homes of Mississippi.
As I did my research at the library in Mississippi, I realized that 1963 was a momentous year in Mississippi’s history—and the United States as a whole. The University of Mississippi accepted it’s first black student, James Meredith, that academic year. That summer, Medgar Evers—the field secretary for the NAACP-- was bludgeoned to death on his front steps in Jackson, Mississippi. In August, Martin Luther King marched on Washington with a quarter of a million people and at the end of the year, the president of the United States was assassinated.
But what was so fascinating to me, about 1963, was that throughout all this turmoil and the riots and the change, virtually nothing was changing in the kitchens of the white homes. White people went about their business, acting oblivious to what was happening right outside their doors.
The book has the makings of an American classic. What is it that you attribute the timelessness of it? It almost reminds one of Toni Morrison.
I think the message of The Help is universal, whether you live in the United States, India, Asia, anywhere. Despite our different colors, religions, backgrounds, we are all just people and not that much separates us, not nearly as much as people tend to think.
How do you rate her as a novelist and do you see shades of yourself in her?
Toni Morrison, my goodness. I would never even dare to compare myself to Toni Morrison. She is an icon, a genius. I can only admire her works and aspire to write as well as she has for the past forty years.
Are you working on any book? Please share?
I am writing my second novel. It also takes place in Mississippi, during the 1930’s and the Great Depression. It’s about a family of women who learn to get around the rules, rules created by men, in order to survive. It was a very difficult time in American History and women did not have nearly the opportunities that they have today.
How have your childhood and adult life been? When did you take to writing and the writers who influenced you?
I started writing when I was in about third grade, sold my first story to some sucker on the playground for 25 cents. I’m forty now, so it took me quite a long time to get published.
Writers that influenced me: I worship Eudora Welty, also from Mississippi. She recognized the intricacies and ironies between blacks and whites well before it became a hot topic.
Of course Harper Lee’s Too Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite. My dream is to write a book as perfectly nuanced as hers.
I think Kaye Gibbons, who wrote Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman and many others, is the greatest living American writer.
Size : 129 x 198mm
Pages : 464
Published : 29 Sep 2011
Publisher : Penguin
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