Resident, ASU professor helps put together book explaining popular ‘Push’ novel - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Community Focus

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Resident, ASU professor helps put together book explaining popular ‘Push’ novel

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Neal Lester

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Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012 12:49 pm

Longtime Ahwatukee Foothills resident Neal Lester was one of four editors who put together “Sapphire’s Literary Breakthrough,” a book volume exploring an author’s writing.

Lester and the other editors of the volume, who at one point were all teaching at Arizona State University, put the book together in hopes of providing a way to read author Sapphire’s novel “Push.”

“(This) opens up the novel to new understanding,” said Lester, a foundation professor at ASU.

The widely popular novel for its raw depiction of race, literacy and child molestation was a breakthrough for author Sapphire. With its award-winning movie adaptation, “Precious,” in 2009, the book was given a second wind of attention after it was penned in 1996.

Lester has taught “Push” in a few courses and said he and fellow editors wanted to analyze the novel’s nuances, bring in scholarly voices, and provide a more in-depth look at the writing.

“Push” has also been received as a novel sometimes difficult to read, as Sapphire wrote most of the main character’s dialogue to reflect her illiteracy.

“What we do in the volume is offer ways to read it and to put it in context,” Lester said.

The plot follows overweight and illiterate teen “Precious” Jones in 1980s Harlem as she is being moved to an alternative school after becoming pregnant with her father’s second child by rape.

Through teaching the novel, each editor saw that it was hugely impactful. In 2007, they hosted Sapphire for a symposium at ASU to discuss the writing before deciding to put a volume together.

“We think this is an opportunity to breathe life into it,” Lester said. “And to resurrect a career and a book that is only looked at in terms of classrooms.”

“Sapphire’s Literary Breakthrough: Erotic Literacies, Feminist Pedagogies, Environmental Justice Perspectives” is now available on

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or Follow on Twitter: @_dianamartinez.

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