Kathryn Stockett was in her mid-thirties while crafting this novel, and turned forty when the novel was published. She’d also graduated with a degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Alabama, and worked in the field of publishing for a time in New York City.
Interview with the author and links
Kathryn Stockett in her own words, Dailymail UK
“In 1970s Mississippi I didn’t have a single black friend or a black neighbour. Yet one of the closest people to me was Demetrie, our family’s black housekeeper.”
Interview with Michele Norris of National Public Radio
“I guess when I felt like I was having a conversation with Demetrie, but, Michele, I didn’t get it all right. I took liberties that made me feel like I was telling the story in the way it should be told, but I never considered when I was writing how it was going to make other people feel.”
Interview with Boof of The Book Whisperer
Boof: I found the book laugh-out-loud in places, particularly where Minny was concerned: was this deliberate from the start or did Minny’s humour develop during the writing process? Did you know you were funny before you started write?
“Oh gosh, I’m not funny at all. I don’t like writing too much trauma. I want to be entertained myself as well as the readers; I can’t stand too much trauma. I think the book needed some humour.”
Interview with Clair Suddath of TIME magazine
“As I wrote, I found that Aibileen had some things to say that really weren’t in her character. She was older, soft-spoken, and she started showing some attitude. That’s [how another character] Minny came to be. After a while longer, I decided to make it a book.”
“. . . On the one hand I wonder, Was this really my story to tell? On the other hand, I just wanted the story to be told. But the truth is that I didn’t think anybody was going to read it. Had I known it was going to be so widely disseminated I probably wouldn’t have written it in the type of language that I did.”
Interview with Parul Kapur Hinzen for Books & More
“Americans are not comfortable talking about race. The U.K. was able to put a much more racially cognizant cover on because they’re not so sensitive about the subject, as I understand it. And they’re also talking about someone else. You know what I mean? We’re very self-conscious about the subject. If we were talking about the racism of, say, India, then maybe we could have put something relevant on the cover. They picked a cover [for the U.S. edition] that had absolutely nothing to do with the book. And I think they did it on purpose.”
Interview with Mary C. Curtis of The Root
Some of the lessons she has discovered as she’s written the book and traveled to talk about it? “We are all just people,” she said. “We all pretty much operate the same.”
Understanding between races would improve if we “take color out of the picture.”
Interview with Jane Kleine of the Post and Courier
“The voices of Aibileen and Minny came to me fairly easily once I got going,” she says. “I’d listened to the cadences and dialect of black Southerners most of my life, and I just played them back in my head.”
Interview with UK site BookRabbit
“I couldn’t stand to write a book that wasn’t funny or at least trying to be funny. And part of what I wanted to do was show the absurdity of the situation. But I really enjoyed trying to make people laugh, I can’t handle too much trauma!”
Interview with Jessamy Calkin of the UK site The Telegraph
“She talks like a Southern belle, though it’s probably the English concept of a Southern belle; ‘Would y’all care for something to sip on?’ she asks. She serves tea and cake while telling me about when she attended ‘culinary school’, caressing the words in her high sing-song voice.”
Interview hosted by Katie Couric of CBS News – Still seeking transcript
When asked about the lack of a southern accent for the white characters in The Help, the author reveals:
“My grandmother spoke so properly, my stepmother speaks so properly, almost all of my friend’s parents spoke this beautiful, just southern eloquence, and I…honestly, I just wrote it like I remembered it.”
“…but I have to say I think the African American language is lovely as well.”
“Really I was living in New York writing, channeling the voices of my childhood, of Demetrie and the black women that I had known. It felt pretty natural to me. And I’ll be the first one to admit, I didn’t get it all right. I just played it back like a tape recorder. And it felt right.”
On the suggestion that she was elevating the white characters in a way that wasn’t done to the African American characters in the book:
“It doesn’t hurt. It puzzles me because in Jackson, Mississippi…we viewed ourselves as sort of this elite community of educated, rather sophisticated southerners and unless you lived in that bubble, yeah I can see why you would question it.”
Interview by Motoko Rich of The New York Times
She added Skeeter, she said, because she worried that readers wouldn’t trust her if she only wrote about black characters. “I just didn’t think that would ever be allowed to sit on the shelf,” she said. “So I threw Skeeter in the mix and I felt a little better about it, because I was showing a white perspective as well.”
Interview by the Publisher – Penguin Group
Minny was the easiest to write because she’s based on my friend Octavia. I didn’t know Octavia very well at the time I was writing, but I’d watched her mannerisms and listened to her stories at parties. She’s an actress in Los Angeles, and you can just imagine the look on her face when some skinny white girl came up and said to her, “I’ve written a book and you’re one of the main characters.” She kind of chuckled and said, “Well, good for you.”
Oprah Radio host Nate Berkus (no transcript available)
“Yes absolutely. And you learned, I think as an African American in Mississippi to be very careful with your words and then one of my favorite scenes from the book is when all the maids were on the bus and they get to talk about all their white employers and they get to make fun of them as openly as they can.”
Audio Interview hosted by Steve Bertrand of Barnes and Noble’s Meet the Writers (no transcript available)
“. . . this may sound ridiculous but I’m not criticizing the people that were living through those times and not questioning it. I’m just trying to examine it and also look at how far we’ve come.”
3:42 into the 10 minute interview
“…1963 was a horrifying and momentous year in Mississippi’s history as well as the entire United States. It was… the fall of 62 when James Meredith was accepted into Ole Miss and in 1963 Medgar Evers the uh…who was with the NAACP he was bludgeoned to death on his front yard in front of his children.”
stated at 8:34 minutes into a 10:31 interview
“She didn’t have any children but she had a very abusive husband and um, someone in our family gave her a pistol, that she kept underneath her pillow loaded. Which really is testament to how afraid she was of her husband coming home. He was more of a threat than a gun going off in her sleep.”
“I had an actress friend, uh she was really an acquaintance at the time. Her name is Octavia Spencer and she’s so amazingly talented. She um, you know she… I would watch her at parties and I would watch her mannerisms and her gestures and she’s just hysterical. And she’s very well educated and extremely intelligent and but you know, Octavia, she will tell you like it is.
And I started picking up on that and trying to incorporate that in the character Minny. And uh, still not knowing Octavia very well when I approached her I said hey, I wrote a book and you’re one of the main characters. She just rolled her eyes and walked away.”
“Oh Gosh, she was so nice, she went on tour with me. She read the African American parts and I read the white parts. And it was quite a show.”
This was the url of the original link that has been changed to the one above:
Interview with Joni Evans of WOW.com
WOW: Oh, how interesting. How bold of you to write in the voice of a black woman.
KATHRYN: Oh, it’s not that bold if you think no one’s going to read it.
WOW: OK, so you’re writing this privately; you’re feeling this – your story – is only for yourself?
KATHRYN: Oh, yes.
” . . . And then I’ve heard from African Americans: ‘Oh, my gosh, I feel like you really captured our voice.’And then recently I heard from just a delightful black woman, just on an airplane yesterday, and she said that the language made her a little uncomfortable. So I’m getting all kinds of comments.”
In Her Own Words by Kathryn Stockett, from her website
“Demetrie came to cook and clean for my family when she was twenty-eight. My father was fourteen, my uncle seven. Demetrie was stout and dark skinned and, by then, married to a mean, abusive drinker named Plunk. She wouldn’t answer me when I asked questions about him. But besides the subject of Plunk, she’d talk to us all day.
And God, how I loved to talk to Demetrie. I’d sit in my grandmother’s kitchen with her, where I went after school, listening to her stories and watching her mix up cakes and fry chicken. Her cooking was outstanding. It was something people discussed at length, after they ate at my grandmother’s table. You felt loved when you tasted Demetrie’s caramel cake.
But my older brother and sister and I weren’t allowed to bother Demetrie during her lunch break. Grandmother would say, ‘Leave her alone now, let her eat, this is her time,’ and I would stand in the doorway itching to get back with her. Grandmother wanted Demetrie to rest so she could finish her work, not to mention white people didn’t sit at the table while a colored person was eating.”
Interview with Frank Reiss for Cover to Cover on GPB (no transcript available, podcast audio link below)
“Everyone in our neighborhood had a black woman working in their kitchen and loved her and I thought that was normal life.”
“I think as a writer it’s important that we look at the past so that we can try to do better in the future”
“…that summer Medgar Evers, who was the field secretary for the NAACP was bludgeoned to death on his front steps. His children actually came outside and were covered in blood and he died in the hospital that night.” **
**(This is the second time the author states Evers was beaten to death. First one was on a Barnes and Noble audio interview that’s also listed. For the record, he was shot in the back. I’m not trying to nit-pick here, But really, I HAD to know history in order to graduate from high school AND College. I took one course in African American history my senior year of high school. That was it. So while I commend Stockett for at least researching the horrific events during segregation, most people of color are taught all about American History, (and World History) that is, all the great contributions white people have made to this country and the world, and famous white people who’ve died that we HAVE to know about in order to get a diploma.
“…I’m so lucky that Octavia has agreed to go on the book tour with me. So on the book tour event, she’s actually going to be reading the parts of Aibileen and Minny and also take on a few of the white women’s voices which will be very funny to listen to. And I will read the white roles and hopefully it will be a lot of fun.”
“Well I think any writer’s goal is to better understand the human condition. So as I was writing it, I began to understand myself how important it is to try to understand what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes.”
“Ironically Celia has to turn to her maid, Minny, to try to understand how to fit into Jackson social circles.”
“My greatest relief in this process is that Octavia Spencer, who is such an amazing actress and a comedian really, like wet yourself funny is coming on tour with me. So,while people will be listening to me read these rather dramatic white voices, they’ll get to listen to Octavia. It’ll be so fun to hear her just roll.”
Interview by Lonnae O’Neal Parker for the Washington Post.com
“ ‘People say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe she would try to represent black women that way.’ Demetrie didn’t go past sixth grade. She lived in a shack. I wasn’t trying to represent a whole race or people,’ she says.”
” ‘I have a Hispanic housekeeper now, and I don’t speak Spanish, so there’s not a whole lot of intimacy there. I have a nanny from Georgia, and she’s white and she brings her daughter.’ They are great friends and work well together, but neither relationship exists in the same fraught cocoon as those ‘help’ relationships in the Old South.’ ”
Interview with Dan Latini of One Book
” ‘I am not Skeeter,” she said. “I’m not that brave. I never thought to question how things were.’
. . . This acceptance, Stockett said, was simply a product of her social climate growing up.
“I was taught that racial issues were considered tacky for a young lady to discuss,” she said. ‘I wasn’t even allowed to watch ‘The Jeffersons.’ ”
Interview with Pam Kelley of the Charlotte Observer
“Stockett, who grew up in Mississippi, said she ‘wrote it like I remember hearing it.’ And she happened to grow up in a family, she said, that “spoke the King’s English.”
She based the voices of some black characters on the voice of Demetrie, the African-American maid who worked for her family for years.”
Interview with Teresa Weaver of Atlanta Magazine
“Some critics have had trouble with the African American dialect in The Help. In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
‘I wouldn’t know how to write it differently. It’s funny when you’re surrounded by people who think something is normal, and then you go out and realize that everyone has their own version of normal. All I can say is, that’s how I remember it now in my mind. The dialect plays back like a tape recorder. My mother and stepmother speak very properly. I really enjoyed putting two very different voices on the page together. I don’t think I’d be capable of writing it any differently.’ ”
Interview with Joanna Chau for the Naples Daily News
“I mostly wrote it how I phonetically remembered it. I filled the gaps with my own creativity. I had an English teacher that told me that I could create my own dialect as long as I didn’t set off the spell checker.
Some critics didn’t feel like the Southern white women had a strong enough accent, especially compared to the black women, but I am a white Southern women and that’s standard dictionary to me.”
Interview with Celia Blue Johnson & Maria Gagliano for Slice Magazine
“Sometimes you can see the cracks in the surface with Hilly. That’s why I threw in that cold sore. You can really tell that all the stress is getting to her.”
“It’s fun trying to make characters not too flat, meaning not all good or all bad. But it’s a challenge, too. With Hilly Holbrook, who is considered my villain, the best I could do for her in terms of giving her a good side is show that she really cares for her children and that she’s a great leader.”
Interview with Stage Rush.com
“Revealing a parallel between The Help and her own life, Stockett said she idolized her family’s housekeeper and tried to mimic her “chocolatey, rich” voice. “I would try to imitate the way she talked and, of course, my parents would get very upset that this little white girl was trying to talk like a black person,” Stocket said. “When I was 30 and wanted to put those voices on the page [for The Help], of course I felt very conflicted, like I was doing something wrong. All those voices from my parents were coming back to me.”
Interview with John Barber for Saturday’s Globe and Mail
“I’m still waiting for the jack-in-the-box to pop,” she says, “for somebody to corner me and say everything I say in my own head – that I had no right to do this.”
In fact, some have done that, accusing the author of the very contemporary sin of cultural appropriation. But when it comes, Stockett says, the criticism is sometimes a relief. “I do wish that people talked about the subject of race, especially in the South,” she says. “It’s just a really hard and uncomfortable topic.”
“It’s an awful, awful feeling to think that you’ve made money — and you can print this if you want — to think that you’re benefitting from somebody else’s loss. It’s a terrible, guilty feeling. I give a lot of money away.”
“I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand.”