Push by Sapphire tells the story of Claireece Precious Jones, a 16-year-old overweight, impoverished girl living in the slums of Harlem. At the start of the novel, Claireece is pregnant with her second child, a result of the sexual abuse she endures from her father. Despite these blatant acts of assault, her mother, Mary, is apathetic to her situation and does nothing to better the quality of life for her daughter. She is eventually transferred to an alternative school where she meets a teacher, Ms. Rain, who inspires her students with art and literature. As Claireece improves in literacy and obtains a proper education, she gains a visible confidence throughout the story.
Sapphire’s own experiences as a remedial reading teacher in Harlem heavily influenced the narrative of Push. As Sapphire told NPR, she wanted to show that this character was “locked out through literacy, by her physical appearance, by her class and, by her color” as these are realities some teenagers must face on a daily basis. She believes that an explicit depiction of illiteracy and abuse is necessary for an accurate portrayal of youth in poverty although it may be disturbing for some readers.
When Push was published in 1996, Sapphire immediately received offers for movie adaptations, but she turned them all down because she did not believe that a filmmaker could adapt the story in all of its brutality. However, when she watched Lee Daniels’ films, Monster Ball and Shadow Boxer, she knew that this was an individual who undoubtedly pushed the boundaries of typical cinema. In 2009, Push was adapted into a film by Lee Daniels entitled Precious. It ultimately won two Academy Awards, including Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.