I first discovered Sue Monk Kidd when I read The Secret Life of Bees. When Lily started her journey with only “Tiburon, South Carolina” written on a souvenir box to guide her, I was hooked. As soon as I finished it, I sought out Sue Monk Kidd’s other books. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited for The Invention of Wings.
When the novel was released earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see Sue Monk Kidd read at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. With a high temperature of nine degrees, it was easily one of New York’s bitterest weeks of winter cold, and yet there wasn’t one empty seat. Watching women of all ages (and a few tag-a-long men) hold books to their chests and across their laps, chatting excitedly with new friends in neighboring seats about all things Sue was truly inspiring.
And then she spoke. I’ve been to many readings by authors, but never before have I seen someone memorize their passages. She introduced both Hetty and Sarah through two short passages each, and told stories about the inspiration and research that shaped both characters.
The Secret Life of Bees was inspired by a childhood memory of bees living inside the wall of her Georgia home. The Invention of Wings was inspired by a trip to the Brooklyn Museum while researching Traveling With Pomegranates, a story co-written with her daughter.
When asked what she wanted readers to take away from the story, Sue said she wanted readers to know what it was to be a woman or a slave during one brief moment in history. “Empathy is the real power of fiction, a carrier of ideas, a common heart. A novel is a portal to the common heart.”
If you’ve already read The Invention of Wings, you know that quilts are a prominent symbol throughout the story. For enslaved African Americans, quilting was one of the few ways to share stories, to share information, to keep memories alive. Sue Monk Kidd’s inclusion of quilts was intentional and deliberate; she wanted an iconic image that conveyed the need to express one’s self.
“There is no pain on earth that does not crave a benevolent witness,” Sue Monk Kidd said. “We are the sum of our history. We need to consider what’s invisible to us today.”
The Invention of Wings captures a dark moment in American history, but the invisible world of injustice still continues today. Sue shared her hope that the novel will inspire people to dare something as Sarah and her sister did.