Photo: Robbie Caponetto
What was your life like growing up in Jackson?
I was kind of a hell-raiser. Tate Taylor (lifelong friend and director of The Help) and I were always stirring it up. When we were 14, we "borrowed" a car and drove to New Orleans for the night. The worst thing for someone like me is too much free time. Idle hands...
How did you come to write The Help?
My grandmother had a maid, Demetrie, who worked for her for 32 years—she died when I was 16. I got so homesick to hear Demetrie's voice, so I started writing, and the story just emerged.
Did you realize the book might be controversial?
The fact that I'm a white, privileged young woman writing in the voice of a black woman broke every rule my grandmother taught me. But I believe it's our job as human beings to imagine what it feels like to be in someone else's shoes, whether it's the President or a woman cleaning up the kitchen. That's how we learn to be better people.
The Help was rejected by 60 literary agents before it was published. What kept you going?
I'm just stubborn as hell. If you tell me I can't do something, I will march right out there and kill myself trying to do it!
What stereotypes do you think people hold about the South?
They think we all know each other. But the truth is, we do! It takes about 8 to 10 seconds to play that game "Oh, you're from Memphis. Do you know...? No, but I know so-and-so, and that's her sister. I know exactly who you're talking about!"
Where would you tell people to visit?
Oh, my heavens! You have to see the Mississippi Delta. You've got to go to New Orleans and stay at the Soniat House. You've got to see the battleship in Mobile Bay. And you need to just take off your shoes and sit by a lake with a cane pole.
How do you take your barbecue?
I like mine wet.
What are some of your favorite books?
I love The Secret History by Donna Tartt–Bunny is one of my very favorite villains. I recently read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If I could ever write a book like that, I would give up writing afterward.
What's the last thing you wrote on a paper napkin?
The title of whatever the person next to me was reading!