The Secret Life of Bees is Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, following several acclaimed works of nonfiction. The novel follows Lily Owens in the summer of 1964 in South Carolina. On a quest to discover her mother's past, Lily travels to a...
Sue Monk Kidd was born on August 12, 1948. She grew up in Sylvester, a town in southwest Georgia where her family had lived for two centuries, on the same plot of land where her great-great-grandparents had lived. The stories her father invented for her as a child and the encouragement of her English teachers fueled her desire to become a writer, yet her uncertainty about her future as a writer, combined with the “cultural climate of the South in 1966,” prompted her to pursue a nursing career instead. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970 and spent the next decade working as a registered nurse and college nursing instructor. Also during that time, she met and married her husband, Sanford “Sandy” Kidd, and together they had two children, Bob and Ann.
Sue Monk Kidd was just shy of her thirtieth birthday when she finally turned again toward a writing career. She wanted to write fiction, and she enrolled in writing classes at a local college. Unexpectedly, her innate gift for writing nonfiction surfaced when a personal essay written for a class appeared in Guideposts Magazine and was later featured in Reader’s Digest. Thus her freelancing career began.
Kidd gained recognition quickly. She became a contributing editor at Guideposts, and throughout these formative writing years she published numerous articles in Guideposts and in various journals and newspapers. It was also during this time that she discovered the writings of Thomas Merton and C.G. Jung, whose work she cites as having a deep impact upon her spiritual life and writing. Her first two books, God’s Joyful Surprise (1988) and When the Heart Waits (1990), were spiritual memoirs depicting her introduction to contemplative Christian spirituality and her subsequent spiritual transformation.
In her early forties, Kidd’s spiritual journey led her in an unanticipated direction: toward the “sacred feminine.” The Dance of the Dissident Daughter (1996), her third and most evocative spiritual memoir, chronicles her path to “feminist enlightenment.”
Despite the success and acclaim she enjoyed writing spiritual nonfiction, Kidd’s desire to write fiction begged to be fulfilled. Refusing to give in to her fear of failure, she immersed herself in the process of writing fiction by taking a graduate writing course and attending various writers’ conferences. Soon the author accumulated several awards for her short fiction, giving her the confidence she needed to begin writing her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, in 1997. Lily Owens’ story has touched and inspired readers since its release in 2002. Kidd tells a compelling tale of Owens’ determination to find the mother she never knew and her coming of age, both physically and spiritually, in the house of the beekeeping Boatwright sisters during the height of the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina.
While Kidd has said that The Secret Life of Bees is largely a product of her imagination, elements of the author’s life are interwoven into the story, such as the bees living in the bedroom walls, the hair rollers fashioned out of grape juice cans, and Kidd’s relationship with the sacred feminine. The novel spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list, has been published in over twenty languages, and is being taught in high school and college classrooms across the country.
Kidd’s second novel, The Mermaid’s Chair (2005), won the Quill Award for General Fiction. Also set in South Carolina, it is the story of Jessie Sullivan, a married woman in her early forties who falls in love with a monk and finds herself torn between her husband and her soul mate, unsure if the mythical power of the mermaid chair is the cause.
In 2006, a collection of Kidd’s early inspirational writings titled Firstlights immediately landed on the New York Times extended bestseller list. As of late 2008 there were more than 200,000 copies in print.
Kidd has been awarded numerous distinctions for both her nonfiction and her fiction, including the 2004 BookSense Book of the Year in paperback for The Secret Life of Bees. She is on the board of advisors for Poets & Writers, Inc., and she is the Writer in Residence at The Sophia Institute in South Carolina. She currently resides near Charleston, South Carolina, with Sandy Kidd and her black lab, Lily. Sue Monk Kidd is certain that she will someday write another memoir because she “still [has] a need to create a narrative of my life. To keep writing it until I see how it turns out.”