The Imagination and the Life behind the Secret Life of Bees
By Laura Major
When an idea for a novel begins to form it can be the seed of any experience imagined or rooted in reality that brings the full body of the work to fruition. For Sue Monk Kidd, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees, it was a combination of her own life experience and her vivid imagination that brought to life the plight of a young Caucasian girl in Civil Rights era South Carolina to take up with her African American nanny in search of self-love and belonging after the death of her mother.
While the book is not autobiographical, Monk Kidd did grow up in the hostility of 1960's Georgia. She says of the time, "It was a time I think when it was just very volatile and very vivid and I remember it deeply...I was an adolescent in 1964, I was around Lily's age so I made her that age for a reason. And it was a time when I too was broken open and became aware of the segregation around me, the vast racial divide, the enormous injustice and I think, 'How did this happen?'"
A time period so rich in history and yet so raw with emotion takes time to come to harvest before it can be shared with a new generation. That ripening period took nearly 30 years and first began to solidify in anecdotes she shared with her husband, then becoming a short story in 1993 before maturing to a full-blown published literary work in 2002. In discussing the path of the story and Monk Kidd's hope for the work, she said "I could hardly see it published, so I think that it was not in my imagination when I was writing. I was just hoping to be true to the story. This is a story I felt like I was born to write and I wanted to tell. I just wanted to be true to it and hope somebody published it. The fact that it got made into a movie is astonishing to me."
There are many reasons for Monk Kidd's surprise, but the strength of the novel isn't be one of them as she also revealed,"This novel was optioned [for film] early...before it was actually published". However, as every great writer who knows the market as well as the craft she explains, "I really felt like it would probably never happen. That it wouldn't become a movie because there are a lot of books that are optioned, [yet] so few end up on the screen." Most think that having a book adapted for film is the ultimate dream, but Monk Kidd explains the risk very few writers think about, "...I felt like it was a risk I was willing to take because I believe in the story and I thought that this story could find a lighter audience and a different audience than those that would read the book–a completely difference audience. I don't know but it might become popular in a different way."
A great risk indeed, as the buzz surrounding the movie has broadened the author's exposure despite the book's previous international acclaim and awards. Beginning her professional career as a nurse then a non-fiction freelancer, The Secret Life of Bees was not her first work. Monk Kidd has written several books and won several awards since, including The Mermaid Chair which won the 2005 Quill Award for General Fiction and was produced as a made-for-television Lifetime movie and Firstlight, a collection of the author's early spiritual and inspirational writings. Aside from her literary publicity travels, Sue Monk Kidd is a Writer in Residence at The Sophia Institute in Charleston, South Carolina. Sue's next release Traveling with Pomegranates, which is due out in 2009, is a mother-daughter travel memoir co-authored with her daughter Ann.
About Laura Major: Laura Major is a multicultural fiction author and freelance writer residing in the greater Phoenix area of Arizona. Her first novel, Mismatched was published by Amira Press in February of 2008. Laura also manages a multicultural website, Sable Lit Reviews.com, one of the few of its kind providing commentary on the multicultural impact of current events as well as multicultural book reviews.