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THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

About The Novel
"I can't think of something I'd rather have more then someone lovin' me.” -Lily

Sue Monk Kidd's internationally acclaimed novel The Secret Life of Bees was born from her experience growing up as an adolescent in the South during the 1960's. "I do think race is the wound of my geography,” she says. "It's the wound of the South and of American life.”

Despite the power of that experience, it took almost 30 years for Monk Kidd's deeply internalized feelings to surface, when she started to share her memories with her husband and when they began to crystallize into book form.

Monk Kidd grew up in a large country house in Sylvester, Georgia, where bees inhabited a wall in the guesthouse. "I remember my mother cleaning up puddles of honey that had seeped out, and the unearthly sound of bee hum vibrating through the house,” the writer has noted. The bees never left, and even years later, when Monk Kidd's husband visited her childhood home, he woke to find the bees flying around his room. That was when his wife "began imagining a young girl lying in bed while bees poured through cracks in her bedroom walls.” Unable to shake that image, she still had to answer two profound questions: "Who is this girl?” and "What is the desire of her heart?” Answering them led to the creation of Lily Melissa Owens, the girl who yearns for her mother, and who became central to Monk Kidd's story.

At first, however, Bees was very much a story, not a novel. It was only after writing the short story in 1993, and after it drew a rapturous response when read aloud at a New York literary event, that Monk Kidd thought of turning it into a novel. During years of research and preparation, that took her through collage making and more contemplative periods, the author turned her attention to matters of race and spirituality. Ancient statues and "archetypal feminine images” of the Virgin Mary became her focus and she set out to learn more about the origins and significance of the Black Madonna, in particular, a journey that took her far from the South and all the way to Europe. There, she found that images of the Black Madonna were symbols of defiance among oppressed women. She knew now that the Black Madonna must be included in the novel.

A coming-of-age story, The Secret Life of Bees takes place in an intricate emotional landscape that explores the psyches of its young heroine and the matriarchs who mentor her. These characters, so genuine and true to life, are culled from the novelist's imagination and from impressions drawn from her years in Georgia. Deeply affected by the social dynamics of growing up white in the racially polarized South, Monk Kidd also benefited from her own immersion in

African-American culture — especially with the character of Rosaleen, partly modeled on her own black caretaker; and the characters of May, June and the women who belong to the Daughters of Mary, all of whom called on memories of the Southern black women whose enthralling stories and kind nature left an indelible impression on Monk Kidd. As for August, the matriarchal figure played by Queen Latifah, she sprang from what Monk Kidd describes as "a vision I carry inside, of feminine wisdom, compassion, and strength… what I would have wanted to find if I'd been in Lily's complicated situation.”

The novel was published in 2002 to critical acclaim and has since been published in more than 23 languages. The novel spent more than two years on The New York Times bestseller list and has sold more than 4.5 million copies.<

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