Author tries to settle into 'this crazy life' after success of debut novel, 'The Help'

Kathryn Stockett
Kathryn Stockett (Kem Lee - The Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kathryn Stockett sounds exhausted when she comes on the line.

Reached by phone in a Greenwood, Miss., bookstore, she's fuzzily apologetic, she's asking someone for water -- it's been one event, one interview, one somebody-wanting-to-talk-to-her-about-the-phenomenal-success-of-her-debut-novel, "The Help," after another.

The book hit the New York Times bestseller list in March 2009 and has been there since. Inspired by a maid who served her family for generations, it's set in early-1960s Jackson and is about intimacies, secrets, shared loves and stoked hatreds between black maids and the white women whose houses (and children's behinds) they scrub.

It is the No. 3 novel in Washington and has been on the local bestseller list for 56 weeks. Having sold 1.8 million copies, Stockett has accomplished a dream feat for any writer, let alone a first-timer. And she won the prestigious South African Boeke Prize.

But that's just for starters.

The story is being made into a movie by writer and director Tate Taylor, who grew up down the street from Stockett. It stars Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard and is set in Greenwood, where Stockett, 41, has been with her 7-year-old daughter for three weeks, visiting the set, working on her second book, and giving interview after interview. It has been a stunning, life-altering, stratospherically successful year.

So she's tired.

But it's a very good tired.

The soft-spoken Stockett doesn't think she has changed, but the world has shifted around her and, "I don't know, I'm a little more overwhelmed by everything."

Although her time is shorter now, "I'm still a mom and, I hope, a wife in some sense," she says wryly. But "the power has shifted in some ways." Her husband did very well in technology sales in New York. "He was traveling all over the world, and I was staying home. Now, we've moved to Atlanta, his clients are down the street and I'm traveling the world."

And although she doesn't get recognized on the street, "I get to talk to authors that I've admired so much all my life," she says.

Author Karin Slaughter, who writes horror, reached out, and Stockett has become friends with Pulitzer-winning Mississippi playwright Beth Henley. "Now I can talk to her, e-mail her and say, 'Oh, my God, can you believe this is happening?' That's an incredible feeling, to talk to another writer who has already made it, and get some pointers to how this crazy life works."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company