Kidd, Sue Monk
Kidd, Sue Monk
PERSONAL: Born in Sylvester, GA; married Sandy Kidd (a marriage and individual counselor); children: Bob, Ann. Education: Texas Christian University, B.S., 1970; graduate study at Emory University. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, kayaking.
ADDRESSES: Home—Charleston, SC. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Viking Press, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Author and nurse. Previously employed as a nurse, St. Joseph's Hospital, Fort Worth, TX, and instructor in nursing, Medical College of Georgia. Teacher of creative writing, speaker, and lecturer; Phoebe Pember House, Charleston, SC, writer in residence; Poets & Writers, Inc., board of advisors.
AWARDS, HONORS: Katherine Anne Porter Second Prize in Fiction, Nimrod/ Hardman Awards, 1993; fellowship in literature, South Carolina Arts Commission, 1993–94; South Carolina fiction project winner, South Carolina Arts Commission/Charleston Post and Courier, 1993, 1995, 1997; Isak Dinesen Creative Nonfiction Award, 1994; "100 Distinguished Stories" citation, American Short Stories, 1994, for "The Secret Life of Bees," and 1996, for "In the Graveyard of Afterbirth"; named to the South Carolina Readers Circuit, 1994, 1995, 1996; Bread Loaf scholar in fiction, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, 1995; participant in Exchange Program in Fiction for South Carolina, Poets & Writers, 1996; nominee for Orange Prize for excellence in women's fiction, 2002, Book of the Year award, Southeast Booksellers Association, 2003, Literature to Life award, American Place Theatre, New York, NY, 2004, and Book of the Year award (paperback), Book Sense, 2004, all for The Secret Life of Bees.
God's Joyful Surprise (nonfiction), Harper San Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 1988.
When the Heart Waits (nonfiction), Harper San Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Journey from the Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (nonfiction), Harper San Francisco (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
The Secret Life of Bees (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
The Mermaid Chair (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of Love's Hidden Blessings, a collection of essays. Contributor of short stories to Best American Short Stories. Contributor to periodicals, including Readers Digest, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Anima. Contributing editor, Guideposts.
ADAPTATIONS: The Secret Life of Bees has been adapted for the stage and produced at the American Place Theater, New York, NY; and has been optioned for screen adaptation by Focus Films. Unabridged versions of The Secret Life of Bees have been adapted for audiocassette and CD, read by Jenna Lamia, High-Bridge Audio, 2002, and for audiocassette, read by Karen White, Books on Tape, 2002; The Mermaid Chair has also been adapted as an audiobook.
SIDELIGHTS: Sue Monk Kidd became interested in writing when she was a child. "My desire to become a writer was born," she explained in her biography on her Home Page, "while listening to my father ply us with tales about mules who went through cafeteria lines and a petulant boy named Chewing Gum Bum." She wrote throughout her childhood, but at the age of sixteen stopped writing completely until long after she graduated from Texas Christian University with a nursing degree. "The only time I really doubted my career choice," she recalled in her biography, "was when my English professor said to me, and I quote, 'For the love of God, why are you a nursing major? You are a born writer.'" Kidd went on to work as a nurse and later as a nursing instructor.
In her thirties, Kidd nurtured her lifelong interest in spirituality with a serious study of Western religion and theology before turning to psychology and mythology. It was during this period that she returned to writing and published essays that grew out of her spiritual journey. She described her first book, God's Joyful Surprise, as "a spiritual memoir which chronicled my early experiences with contemplative Christian spirituality." She followed that book with When the Heart Waits, which portrays the psychological and spiritual transformation she later experienced. When her spiritual explorations took her into feminist theology in her forties, Kidd captured that experience in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. "The book found a huge audience of women," she recounted in her biography, "and their response to it was astonishingly passionate."
But even as she was gaining recognition for her feminist religious studies, Kidd still held on to her childhood love for stories. She seriously studied the craft of fiction in various courses and conferences before starting her first novel in 1997. Three years later, The Secret Life of Bees was sold for publication.
Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees is the story of fourteen-year-old Lily, who has been raised by her abusive father and their black servant, Rosaleen. When Lily was only four years old her mother was killed. Her father blames Lily for his wife's death. Lily and Rosaleen run away from her abusive father and the police, who have beaten Rosaleen for trying to vote. Not knowing where to go, they head for Tiburon, South Carolina, the words on the back of the cross Lily's mother wore. In Tiburon they find Black Madonna Honey, an apiary run by three black sisters—August, June, and May—who allow Lily and Rosaleen to stay with them. There Lily is happy. She learns much about bees, and finds out what really happened to her mother. A writer for Publishers Weekly noted that the book "features a hive's worth of appealing female characters, an offbeat plot and a lovely style." In what he called a "sweeping debut novel" in his Library Journal review, David A. Berona pointed out that "the stunning metaphors and realistic characters are so poignant that they will bring tears to your eyes." Beth Kephart, reviewing the book for Book magazine, observed: "Goodness—what it is, what it looks like, who bestows it—is the frame within which this book is masterfully hung, the organizing principle behind this intimate, unpretentious, and unsentimental work."
The Mermaid Chair, Kidd's follow-up to her successful first novel, tells the story of Jessie Sullivan, a middle-aged housewife and part-time artist who is drawn back to her childhood home after receiving some disturbing news about her estranged mother. Leaving behind her loyal, though slightly controlling, husband, Hugh, Jessie ventures back to tiny Egret Island, located off the coast of South Carolina. Upon her return, Jessie finds that her extraordinarily devout mother, Nelle, has cut off her finger for reasons unknown. Jessie suspects her mother's descent into madness may have something to do with her father's tragic death over thirty-three years ago, for which Jessie has always blamed herself. Her quest for answers leads Jessie to the local monastery where even more mysteries await her. Here she finds a strange chair fashioned with the image of a saint who was once a mermaid, as well as a young monk, Brother Thomas, who is on the verge of taking his final vows. In him, Jessie finds a passion she thought was lost and she begins to feel a reawakening of her emotions, her sensuality, and her artistic vision. The secrets of the past collide with the uncertainties of the present in what a writer for Publishers Weekly described as an "emo-tionally rich novel, full of sultry, magical descriptions of life in the South." In her review for Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Reese called this effort by Kidd "a goopy follow up" to her best selling debut, The Secret Life of Bees. Conversely, while reviewing Kidd's novel for Time, Lev Grossman pointed out that the author's "writing is so smart and sharp, she gives new life to old midlife crises, and she draws connections from the feminine to the divine to the erotic that a lesser writer wouldn't see, and might not have the guts to follow."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, January-February, 2002, Beth Kephart, "Sweet as Honey."
Booklist, December 1, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. 628; February 15, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of The Mermaid Chair, p. 1036.
Book World, April 10, 2005, Donna Rifkind, review of The Mermaid Chair, p. 6.
Entertainment Weekly, April 1, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of The Mermaid Chair, p. 75.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. 1447; February 1, 2005, review of The Mermaid Chair, p. 140.
Library Journal, Henry Carrigan, Jr., review of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Journey from the Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, p. 100; December, 2001, David A. Berona, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. 173.
Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. R15.
New York Times Book Review, March 31, 2002, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. 17; May 22, 2005, Dana Kennedy, review of The Mermaid Chair, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 1, 1991, William Griffin, review of Love's Hidden Blessings, p. 43; April 22, 1996, review of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 65; August 6, 2001, Lucinda Dyer, "Sue Monk Kid: The Secret Life of Bees," p. 49; November 12, 2001, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. 33; February 21, 2005, review of The Mermaid Chair, p. 155; March 28, 2005, Marcia Ford, "Sue Monk Kidd: Monk Kidd's Monk," p. S16; April 4, 2005, Bob Summer, "Sue Monk Kidd: Monk Kidd's Monk," p. 39.
Time, April 4, 2005, Lev Grossman, "Sex and the Sacred: A Bittersweet Novel of Midlife Crisis and Forbidden Love from the Author of The Secret Life of Bees," p. 69.
Washington Post, January 13, 2002, review of The Secret Life of Bees, p. T05.
Sue Monk Kidd Home Page, http://www.suemonkkidd.com/ (August 12, 2005).