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Sapphire delivers message of hope for Nassau college students

Best-selling author Sapphire brought her message of hope and overcoming adversity to a ballroom full of Nassau Community College students Monday.

The award-winning author, whose novel "Push" was made into the Oscar-winning movie "Precious," was speaking as part of the school's Women's History Month and spring lecture series activities. Her subject: "When Push Comes to Precious: the Novel, the Film, the Reality."

"I had students who had stories that demanded to be told," Sapphire told the audience of the character Precious, an overweight, abused teen with oversized dreams. "I just wasn't sure if I was the one to do it." She noted that Precious was a compilation of stories from students Sapphire had taught during her years as a remedial reading teacher in Harlem.

Sapphire's hesitation might be traced back to her youth when someone not only didn't believe in her, but also beat down her dreams.

"Our family was poor and a little weird," said Sapphire, 59, whose first published work was a piece in her elementary school newspaper. "When I was in the eighth grade [in Los Angeles] I'd written a story and turned it in to Mrs. Dukes, a middle-class Negro woman. She didn't believe I'd written it. In fact, she found it impossible to believe in my kind having written something so good."

After being told "You didn't write this!" at 13, Sapphire, who was born Ramona Lofton, didn't write anything else until she was in her 20s. Instead, she wondered what was wrong with her that an educated black woman could not believe she had enough talent to write. "It was 30 years before I stopped wondering what was wrong with me and asked myself 'What was wrong with her?' "

The same determination to overcome such brutal odds characterized Precious, the heroine of the novel. When asked what Precious would say to the students at Nassau Community College, Sapphire said, "It would be a message of hope. That you can overcome the dragons in your life. You can overcome the self-hatred. She did."

Los Angeles is a kinder, gentler place these days for Sapphire, thanks to two Oscars for "Precious" during last week's Academy Awards ceremony. Mo'Nique, who played Precious' mother, won best supporting actress. The movie also won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. "I never expected any of that to happen," said Sapphire, who added she still is thrilled and excited by all the attention she and the book are getting.

So what's on tap? Sapphire's next book comes out in 2011. This time, she'll use the pages of her book to lend a voice to what is going in the lives of young men.

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