Thursday, September 15, 2011

120: The Self-Empowered Woman: Kathryn Stockett

Dear Followers,

I'm willing to bet that most of you have either read the book (which was published in 2009) or seen the movie that today's amazing woman wrote. Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help has sold over five million+ copies, been on the New York Times Best Seller list over 100 weeks, and been published in more than 35 countries.

When Stockett was only six years old, her parents divorced (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Much of her childhood was spent with her paternal grandparents in Jackson, Mississippi. The result of her mother''s absence and her father's business travels was that - in retrospect - she felt that her grandmother's maid (Demetrie) was the adult with whom she forged the strongest connection. In her words, "I didn't always know where my mother was, I didn't know where my father was, but I always knew where Demetrie was. I would go to my grandparents' six days a week. Demetrie was always there."

In 1974, Stockett attended Mothers' Morning Out Preschool and began a lifelong friendship with Tate Taylor. By the time they were in Junior High, Taylor knew he wanted to be a filmmaker, and Stockett wanted to be a writer (2: An Early Sense of Direction). As anyone who has heard Stockett lecture can attest, she is not the pious or sanctimonious type. Her grandmother's family, however, worked as Missionaries in Shanghai (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

The fact that The Help was rejected 60 times has practically become literary legend. Her childhood friend, Taylor, - who directed the movie version - was among the first to read the unpublished manuscript, and he was the one who urged her to continue even though she received five dozen rejections. As she remembers those days, "We were both experiencing doors being shut in our faces, one after the other." (4: Supportive Someone).

Both Stockett and her novel initially received a lot of criticism. Plenty of people in Jackson, Mississippi resented the fact that she focused a spotlight on the town's segregation. And, at first, readers wondered how (and if) a white woman of this era could capture the feelings of Black domestic workers from 50 years ago (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest). In spite of all the negative feedback her novel initially received, The Help (which took a decade to write) became a runaway success.

Obviously, writing is a passion for Stockett, who is now hard at work on her second novel about a family from the 1930s, coping with The Depression. She even told an interviewer that she was so worried about finishing The Help that she "couldn't have another baby because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to write - to finish the book." She freely admits that she doesn't consider herself a "great" writer, but "I'm just stuck being a f****** writer my whole life. If I'm not writing I'm miserable." (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Hearing "NO" for so long, according to Stockett, helped her get "used to not taking no." She told Katie Couric that she felt she should send thank-you notes to the people who turned down her book because "Every rejection made me go back and try to make the story better." (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Not surprisingly, Stockett pushes herself to the limit. "If you tell me I can't do something, chances are I'm just going to try harder to do it. Sometimes it can be very, very annoying." She revised the book every time it was rejected (10: The Critic Within).

The Help began when Stockett was working on a different project during a month-long leave from her job in magazine publishing. On 9/11, when the planes hit the twin towers, she was in her apartment and a power surge wiped everything off her hard disk, and left her with no mobile or landline phone reception. As she recalled, "I felt so homesick, I've never been so homesick in my life, and on September 12, I started writing a story in the voice of Demetrie, to comfort myself...When I first started, I was just doing it to hear Demtrie's voice again. Her voice was so natural to me." (12: Hard Times).

Stockett doesn't reveal much in interviews about her love life, but records indicate that she has a daughter, Lila, and Stockett and husband, Keith Rogers, amicably divorced after eleven years together (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

Demetrie began working for Stockett's grandmother in 1955 and stayed for 32 years.

Looking forward to your comments...

1 comment:

  1. I loved the movie, THE HELP! The history behind the story is fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Marilyn!