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Sue Monk Kidd | Biography

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Early Life

Much like her protagonist Lily Owens in The Secret Life of Bees, author Sue Monk Kidd grew up in a small town in the southern United States and came of age during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Born on August 12, 1948, she was raised in the Southern Baptist faith in Sylvester, a small town in southwest Georgia known as that state's "Peanut Capital." Kidd's family had lived for five generations on the same piece of land where she grew up. Like Lily's house in Sylvan, South Carolina, Kidd's childhood home had bees living in its walls. Kidd's recollections of their hum and honey provided the seed for The Secret Life of Bees.

Although Kidd has described her early life as largely idyllic, she was aware of racial prejudice in the community around her, as well as the disruptive events of the summer of 1964, the same summer featured in The Secret Life of Bees. The Civil Rights Act, the first major piece of antidiscrimination legislation in the United States, was passed on July 2, 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin and guaranteeing blacks the right to vote. Kidd emerged from this formative summer with a deep awareness of the injustice and pervasiveness of racism.

Beginnings as a Writer

In 1970 Kidd graduated from Texas Christian University with a nursing degree. However, she never forgot a comment made by one of her literature professors, who told her she should be a writer rather than a nurse. Kidd married a Southern Baptist minister, had two children, and was active in the church. After 10 years of working in healthcare, she found the confidence to begin a writing career at age 30. Kidd had always been in the habit of writing down her dreams, and she had begun having dreams that led her to a kind of feminist awakening. She began questioning the concept of the male Christian God, and she began searching for a female divinity. Kidd chronicled her spiritual journey in two memoirs, When the Heart Waits (1990) and The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (1996).

The Switch to Fiction

After publishing her two memoirs, Kidd began to write fiction. Several of her short stories were published in literary journals, and she was awarded writing fellowships from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the South Carolina Academy of Authors. She devoted herself to the serious study of fiction writing, taking a graduate course at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and participating in various writers' conferences.

The Secret Life of Bees

Kidd explored issues of race, feminism, and spirituality in her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees (2002). The novel sold millions of copies, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two and a half years, won a 2006 Outstanding Southeastern Author Award from the Southeastern Library Association, and was chosen as a "Read This!" book club pick by Good Morning America. In 2008, Fox Searchlight Pictures released a movie adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees. The film won many awards, including a 2008 Hollywood Film Award for "Ensemble Acting of the Year," a 2009 Image Award for "Outstanding Motion Picture," fourth place in the African American Film Critics Association's Top-10 Films for 2008, and the 2009 Humanitas Prize for Feature Film.

Later Works

In 2005 Kidd published a second novel, The Mermaid Chair. Set in South Carolina like The Secret Life of Bees, The Mermaid Chair is an exploration of midlife issues and awakenings. It received the 2005 Quill Award for General Fiction. In 2009, Kidd coauthored Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, about their travels together in Europe. Kidd's third novel, The Invention of Wings, a historical novel focusing on the relationship between Hetty, a slave in 19th-century Charleston, and Charlotte Grimke, a young white abolitionist and protofeminist, was published in 2014. It has been translated into dozens of languages, selected by Oprah's Book Club, debuted as #1 on the New York Times best sellers list, and won a 2015 Southern Independent Book Alliance Book Award. Kidd served on the Writers Council for Poets & Writers, a nonprofit organization working on behalf of poets and writers in the United States since 1970.

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