Anyone who has ever heard Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt on KCRW knows that he is a discerning reader with an eye for detail. On July 24, Silverblatt proved that his attention to detail extends beyond the reaches of literature at an intimate gathering for the radio station’s UpClose series with acclaimed author Sapphire.
The affair was held at Soho House, a private West Hollywood penthouse with panoramic views of the Los Angeles skyline, and with tickets priced at 50-a-pop, Silverblatt hoped the gathering would truly be an event. Silverblatt and Sapphire effortlessly eased themselves into the mingling crowd, sharing warm hugs with friends and making the distinction between guest and guest of honor nearly impossible.
What started out as a swanky, exclusive gathering of L.A.’s photogenic intelligentsia quickly progressed into a sincere and thoughtful conversation with a focus on Sapphire's newest novel, The Kid, which chronicles the life of Abdul, Precious' son from the author’s best-selling novel, Push.
In light of Push, which Sapphire described as "a story about the acquisition of language," it was only fitting that a substantial chunk of the conversation was dedicated to the importance of education: "They may burn your house," she said, "but they can't take what is in your mind."
Sapphire also noted that she was not out to please fans with The Kid: "I wasn’t trying to satisfy people. I wasn’t taking on the role of a cultural massage therapist." In reference to Abdul, Precious’ son, Sapphire mentioned that at some points in the writing process he drifted away from her “the way a teenager does from the woman who created him.”
The conversation also covered several other topics, like the method Sapphire uses to write such explosive prose (“I've learned how to compartmentalize. I think we've all borrowed that word from Bill Clinton") and why readers find long, sweeping descriptions of settings boring ("We have Google Earth now… I don’t have to show you Harlem"). She added, "What we don't have access to is the inner workings of the soul."
When Sapphire assured readers that she too takes the same risks they do in writing such gripping novels, Silverblatt, whose slightly nasal and fragile voice can sometimes belie the energy behind his questioning, confessed, "This is why I love you."
It was in this atmosphere that Silverblatt felt compelled to reveal his personal hesitation to write, adding, "I've never told anyone this before." "Art is not perfection,” Sapphire said. “Mistakes don't preclude art."
From the lawyer who asked Sapphire to relay a message back to his office (where she is considered a hero), to the many worn-out copies of Push floating around the salon, Sapphire had no shortage of fans in attendance. But what made the event worthy of its price tag was the heartwarming dynamic between host and guest. After the audience Q&A, Silverblatt insisted that Sapphire receive the longest applause possible. The writer, in a rare and candid moment, smiled widely, got up, and affectionately squeezed the chin of her biggest admirer.