After finishing her book, The Help, only two days ago I have been so excited about interviewing Kathryn Stockett. If you haven’t read the book yet, you have such a treat in store for you and I envy you picking this book up for the first time (it’s one I plan to read again at some point in the future). For anyone who missed it, my review of The Help is here.
A bit of a biography
Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter. The Help is her first novel.
Taken from The Telegraph newspaper: As a child in America’s Deep South in the 1970s, Kathryn Stockett was not really aware of the racial divides around her. Now she has written a novel about the community in 1960s Mississippi from the point of view of the black servants.
The British cover to Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help – about the experiences of black maids in Mississippi in the early 1960s – is a period photograph of a little white girl in a pushchair flanked by two black women in starched white uniforms – the ‘help’ of the book’s title.
The photograph, which was found in the National Congress archives, was deemed too controversial to be used on the American cover. The spectre of racism in the South is still raw and political correctness works overtime.
When Stockett was first shown the photograph, which was inscribed Port Gibson, Mississippi, she sent it to a friend of hers, who, in turn, forwarded it to his mother. Back came the reply, ‘Why, that’s just little Jane Crisler Wince on the corner of Church Street – she had two maids – her family owns the local paper…’ Stockett was thrilled with this information. ‘That the whole South is just one small town, and we pass each other in the grocery store every day is a myth I love to perpetuate,’ she says.
The Help took five years to write, got at least 45 rejection letters from agents, and when finally published went straight into the American bestseller lists. It has sold a quarter of a million copies so far in the US, and is still selling briskly.
Boof: Congratulations on the huge success of your book? Did you ever imagine that it would have this impact?
Kathryn: Thank you. Oh gosh no, it was such a surprise. My head is still spinning.
Boof: Is it true that The Help was rejected 45 times before finally being picked up?
Kathryn: No, it was more like 60.
Boof: Wow! And you just kept on trying?
Kathryn: Nobody told me to stop. I just kept on going until somebody said yes.
Boof: Having grown up in Jackson, Mississippi what sort of response did your book get from family and friends?
Kathryn: Most were thrilled and excited for me. There were a few who were not happy; not because they’re racist but because of the spotlight on Jackson; they just didn’t want more bad press.
Boof: How long had that novel been in your head?
Kathryn: It took me 5 years to write. I realised that I had never asked myself what Demetrie [Kathryn’s childhood maid] was thinking; the premise came out in a rush but then it took me 5 years.
Boof: Miss Hilly is one of the best bitches I have ever known in the world of fiction; did you actually know any Hilly’s when growing up?
Kathryn: Thank you for saying that. No. I took little bits and pieces from the worst people I knew and then timed it by ten.
Boof: I found the book laugh-out-loud in places, particularly where Minny was concerned: was this deliberate from the start or did Minny’s humour develop during the writing process? Did you know you were funny before you started write?
Kathryn: Oh gosh, I’m not funny at all. I don’t like writing too much trauma. I want to be entertained myself as well as the readers; I can’t stand too much trauma. I think the book needed some humour.
Boof: I have read that you are working on another book now: can you give us any sneak previews?
Kathryn: I am writing another book but I’m not very far in yet. It will be located in Mississippi; also about women; and set in the Great Depression. I’d like to make it funny too.
Boof: Who are your literary hero’s?
Boof: You’re in a time-machine and you can go anywhere in the world and to any time in history: where do you go and why?
Kathryn: Oh, right now that would be the late 20’s / early 30’s: I’d like to use it as reserch for my next book
Boof: I can’t wait unitl it comes out. OK, finally the “Quick-fire round”:
Favourite colour: Blue
Favourite food: Avocados
Favourite animal: Horses (we always had horses growing up)
Favourite childhood memory: Demetrie – sitting on her lap
Favourite book: Lolita
Favourite film: I don’t really have one, I never watch movies: it must be 10 years since I went. Sorry.
Kathryn was lovely! So softly spoken with the cutest southern drawl. I missed my interview slot this morning because my phone decided to play up and even though she has a full day of interviews and book-signings today she still allowed me to call back this afternoon while she had 10 minutes in a taxi between bookings. Kathryn sounded genuinely surprised and humbled by all the attention her book has got. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she comes up with next (but let’s hope it’s not another 5 years!)
In summary: One of the best books I done read this year 😉