When examining the quality and prolific nature of Sue Monk Kidd”s writing, one cannot help but be amazed that her career got off to such a late start. Though Kidd was a passionate writer during her childhood years in South Carolina, she ceased writing during adolescence, prompted by both dwindling confidence and the occupational restrictions placed on her because of her gender. She instead became a nurse, and continued in this profession until the age of 30, at which point she had, in her words, “a defining moment” and began to write.
Kidd will be reading from her first novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” at 7 p.m. tonight at Borders.
Kidd began in 1988 with “God”s Joyful Surprise,” a memoir that contemplated her own early-life spiritual introspection. She then followed in 1990 with “When the Heart Waits,” a second memoir that recalled her mid-life personal and religious rediscovery in which she utilized teachings from an array of sources including Jesuit monks and Carl Jung.
In 1996, Kidd made an indelible mark on feminist theology with her third memoir “Dance of the Dissident Daughter”. This was Kidd”s autobiographical chronicle of spiritual awakening, independent of, or perhaps more accurately, in response to the paternalistic nature of the organized religion of her upbringing. During this period, she also published hundreds of articles and essays expanding on her perceptions of psychology, spirituality, and gender.
It would have appeared as though Kidd, who was then in her forties, had found her literary niche in feminist religious studies and introspective non-fiction. Kidd, however, had other plans.
In 1993, she began writing and publishing short works of fiction in magazines and journals and quickly established herself as a skillful and proficient writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Kidd received much praise and many prestigious awards during the time period from 1993 to 1996, including the South Carolina Literature Fellowship and a Poets and Writers Award. In 1997, she began her eagerly anticipated first novel.
“The Secret Life of Bees” abounds with the richness and eccentricities that embody Southern writing, and Kidd”s style recalls such female Southern authors as Eudora Welty and Elizabeth Spencer. The plot centers on Lily, a 14-year-old girl whose mother passes away when she is a small child, and Rosaleen, the fiercely protective black housekeeper who serves as Lily”s surrogate mother.
The racially charged South of the 1960s sets the background for the story, and provides the conflict that forces the two to flee and seek protection with a trio of black, bee-keeping sisters.
“The Secret Life of Bees” seems to be the logical literary progression into fiction, given Kidd”s feminist and spiritual past. Kidd intermingles themes of racism, religion and adolescent coming-of-age, and manages to succeed without pretension. The resulting story is artfully told and celebrates the relationships that exist between mothers and daughters, both actual and adopted, investigations into one”s self worth and most importantly, the inherent strength of women. Kidd”s first novel was a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait.