Readers may be shocked and saddened by the beginning of Sapphire’s new novel, “The Kid,” the sequel to her celebrated 1996 debut novel, “Push.” In vivid prose and exacting detail, the New York-based poet and novelist describes the funeral for Precious Jones, the young woman whose struggle to overcome illiteracy, rape and finally AIDS made her a hero to readers and to fans of the 2009 film adaptation, “Precious.”

“It was to provide some closure,” says Sapphire, whose real name is Ramona Lofton. “People would stop me on the street and ask me what happened to her. I’m an artist in the world and I had created this character, and I needed to let her rest in peace.”

“The Kid” — which Sapphire will read from Monday at Politics and Prose — follows Precious’ orphaned son, Abdul Jones, as he languishes in the foster system and begins to define himself as an artist in New York. “I really wanted to explore his life and what it means that there’s no social network for him,” Sapphire says. “When his mother dies, Abdul literally falls.”

“The Kid” proves to be just as dark at times as “Push,” but also retains that book’s strong undercurrent of hope and belief in the redemptive power of self-expression. For Precious, that meant learning to read and write; for Abdul, it means dancing. “I did not want to create a totally bleak picture,” Sapphire says. “Had I not had that thread of transformation through art, it would have been impossible for me to go to some of these places.”

Writing frank scenes of sexual, physical and emotional abuse was tough, but Sapphire says she felt a responsibility to her readers and characters alike. “Not only was it emotionally draining, but I was frightened: How would people perceive this type of work?,” she explains. “I lived with that saying by [poet Rainer Maria] Rilke pinned over my desk, ‘An art object is ruthless and has to be that way.'”

Those passages were as important as they were harrowing, Sapphire says, because they are based on hard truths. “This book would not be necessary if it had not been for the fact that millions of little black boys like Abdul have less of a chance of being adopted than a stray cat,” she says. “Through his desire to dance, Abdul is able to circumvent a negative fate like addiction, mental illness, homelessness or prison. But his life would have been a lot better if he’d been adopted after his mother died.”

» Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Mon., 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)

Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner
Photo courtesy Sapphire