Kathryn Stockett is a writer and editor of American origin. Born in 1969 in Jackson, Mississippi, she is best known for her critically acclaimed novel The Help.
Stockett studied creative writing and English for her undergraduate course from University of Alabama. Then she moved to New York in order to pursue work in publishing business. For about nine years she offered her services in marketing and publishing of magazine there and later relocated in Atlanta, Georgia. She shifted her interest to literary writing as she moved back to South.
After five years of hard work on her personal writing project she finally had The Help published in 2009. It was not easy for Stockett to find a willing literary agent to represent her work. After rejection from 60 literary agents consecutively, eventually agent Susan Ramer took upon the task. The novel became a milestone in Stockett’s writing career earning a tremendous praise for writing on a unique subject matter. The inspiration for the novel is Stockett’s own childhood.
The Help highlights the relationship dynamics between whites and their African-American domestic help in South. At first Stockett was reluctant to write about the dynamics of this relationship as she knew it would be heavily criticized. In her interviews she recounted her experience as a child in South where Jackson had equal population of white and back, though she never saw any black receiving education. Her childhood memories are only of blacks as domestic help for white people which she assumed customary affair. It was not until she moved to North she was able to see the bigger picture. She realized that she was living in an isolated place where blacks were not considered equal race.
As she shared her childhood experiences of black domestic help in her family with other Southerners, she mulled the idea of writing down a story on it. The model for her novel was her close relationship with a black housekeeper, Demetrie. In an interview, Stockett sketched Demterie’s life who was underprivileged and was treated somewhat like a slave despite the change in segregation laws in 70’s. Every family in Stockett’s town had a black woman as a domestic help and they were expected to wear a white uniform which granted them access to white people’s markets. They were not allowed privacy or offered any sort of comforts.
During the initial process of writing Stockett employed the first-person narrative of a black housekeeper, thinking her work would never have any readership. It was not until she let her friends read the book in order to get their valuable feedback, she felt concerned about her narrative technique and depiction of characters. Despite her apprehension, the novel won rave reviews from readers and critics alike. Over ten million copies of the book have been sold in over 42 different languages. In 2011, the novel was adapted into film by Walt Disney Studios.
After publication of the novel, Kathryn Stockett professed that she felt mortified that it took her 20 years to see the unjust treatment of blacks. And the sole reason for her writing The Help was to understand why she couldn’t see through the duplicity of things in South. The memories of Demterie still haunt her and make her wonder what her childhood companion would think of present America, electing a black president twice.