Born Ramona Lofton in 1950, Sapphire is an American poet and novelist.
A controversial novel even before its publication, Push (1996) is set in the harsh world of Lenox Avenue in Harlem during the 1980s. It relates the miserable existence of Claireece "Precious" Jones, an overweight, African-American sixteen-year-old girl who dreams of learning to read so she can graduate from high school and find independence. Precious's story begins with her discovery that she is again pregnant by her own father, who also is the father of her first child, Mongo, a girl born with Down's syndrome. Not only has Precious's mother, who is not married to her father, been aware of his routine sexual abuse, but she beats Precious for stealing her man. After the birth of her second child, Precious learns that her father has died of AIDS and that she is HIV positive. Despite all the degradation she has endured from her abusive family and cruel classmates, she is not psychologically destroyed. A ninth-grade dropout due to her first pregnancy, Precious by chance gains entrance to an alternative school, where she is befriended by Blue Rain, a reading teacher who restores a sense of self-respect and hope in her students by encouraging them to keep a journal, "to live in language." Precious eventually joins an incest survivors support group. A lengthy postscript contains the life stories of other students in Precious's reading class. Critical reaction to Push generally has been favorable, but debate about the book's literary merits and its intense focus on incest, abuse, and prejudice has continued. Although many publishers thought that the unrelenting despair of Precious's existence was greatly exaggerated, reviewers have often compared Push to Alice Walker's The Color Purple. Critics have frequently commented on the angry yet intimate voice of Precious and her blunt, graphic language, to which many readers have attributed the emotional power of Push. "Without benefit of intricate plot or beautiful language, masterly structure or terribly complex characters," remarked Rosemary Mahoney, "Sapphire has created in Push an affecting and impassioned work that sails on the strength of pure, stirring feeling." Sapphire also wrote a collection of prose and poetry, American Dreams (1994), which explores similar themes of racism, misogyny, and the despair and injustice suffered by the poor. One poem in particular, "Wilding," scandalized critics with its frank description of a Central Park gang rape. Margaret Randall found the book "startlingly raw in places, imbued with a haunting power."