The Secret Life of Late Bloomer Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Late Bloomer Sue Monk Kidd

“Everyone needs a God who looks like them.” ~August, The Secret Life of Bees.

It’s a book that could have failed, considering its thorny subjects—racism, child abuse, and maternal loss.

Yet it sold more than six million copies and spent a hundred weeks on the New York Times best seller list. In 2008, it was adapted to the big screen with Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (b. 1948) was her fiction début, published at age 53. Sue’s own surprising spiritual journey brought it into being.

The Dissident Daughter

Sue Monk Kidd lived one of those perfect, small town, southern childhoods (except for the swarm of bees in the walls of her 100-year-old house).

She could walk to the drugstore and charge a cherry Coke to her father. Or to Empire Mercantile and charge a pair of cheerleader socks to her mom. By the time she got home, her parents would know what color socks she’d bought and what size Coke she’d drunk.

But the 1964 Civil Rights Movement changed Sue’s idyll forever. Her high school class became the first to integrate. She was 16 and old enough to understand racism’s cruelty. It stayed with her.

In 1970, Sue earned a B.S. in Nursing from Texas Christian University. She worked as nurse, met her husband, Sanford (Sandy), a Baptist minister, and had two children.

In her 30s, she left nursing for full-time mothering, taught Sunday School, and wrote inspirational essays for Guideposts Christian magazine. They led to her first memoir, God’s Joyful Surprise, published at age 40.

Then a friend introduced her to feminist spiritual thought. Over the next several years, she embraced the divine feminine and joined the Episcopal Church, which ordains women.

Her vocation as a Christian writer ended and her life as a Baptist minister’s wife came under fire from all sides. But Sandy stood by her and (not surprisingly) became a psychotherapist. “In the end,” she says, “my husband went through his own deep changes and here we are.”

At age 48, Sue wrote The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. She realized

…that my creative life is my deepest prayer. That I must pray from my heart, from my soul. Not from my head or my need for security or approval or to gain some sort of repute.

The Secret Life of Bees

Exploring the divine feminine inspired Sue’s desire to “express myself in ways native to my own soul.”

I thought I would go on writing only nonfiction the rest of my life. Ah, but never underestimate the power of a dismissed dream.  I think there must be a place inside of us where dreams go and wait their turn.

The Secret Life of Sue Monk Kidd at Debra Eve's LaterBloomer.comShe completed The Secret Life of Bees in just over three years.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

In 1964 South Carolina, Lily Melissa Owens, age 14, lives with her cruel and aloof father. Lily’s mother Deborah died from a gunshot wound when Lily was four. The authorities ruled it an accident because Lily was found holding the gun.

One day, Lily accompanies her beloved black housekeeper Rosaleen to town, where Rosaleen intends to register to vote.

A gang of bullies tries to stop them and Rosaleen spits chewing tobacco on the leader’s shoe. The two end up in jail. Lily’s father takes her home, but says that the gang leader will kill Rosaleen even if she apologizes. Lily breaks Rosaleen out and they run away.

They’re adopted by a trio of black sisters, August, May and June, who live in a bright pink house and raise bees. Lily’s past unravels among the sisters, and she finds the true meaning of home.

The Creative Process

To write The Secret Life of Bees, Sue relied on character studies, scene diagrams, and a structure notebook. But she also wanted to “conjure that infectious magic” that flows into the most memorable stories.

So she created a collage of vivid, imaginative images: a pink house, a trio of African-American women, a wailing wall. She kept it above her writing desk like a treasure map, adding more images as they came to her. Her writing emerged from the collage.

Sue Monk Kidd’s spiritual journey took her from a nursing career to a deep and personal faith. It helped her to craft a magical tale, one that pays tribute to love, hardship, and the ineffable spirit.

She often recounts this anecdote: One day, a student approached Carl Jung with a problem. “Professor, could you please tell me the shortest distance to my life goal?”

Without hesitation Jung replied, “The detour.”

The Secret Life of Sue Monk Kidd at Debra Eve's LaterBloomer.com
Sue Monk Kidd at the premier of Secret Life Of Bees

More About Sue Monk Kidd

(The opening image, Landscape with a Pink House (1910) by Ukrainian artist David Burliak reminded me of the sisters’ house in The Sacred Life of Bees.)

24 Responses

  1. Cathy | Treatment Talk
    | Reply

    Hi Debra,

    The Secret Life of Bees is one of my all time favorite books. The movie was good too, but they never have quite the same magic as reading the book. Interesting to read about Sue Monk Kidd. Another example of someone giving one of their greatest gifts later in life. Thanks for sharing.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Cathy! I’ve not seen the movie yet, but loved the book too. After reading her bio, so much more of the book made sense and I’d love to reread some time.

  2. Sara
    | Reply

    This woman is so fascinating. I have read most of what she’s written — and it hasn’t *all* bowled me over, but “Secret Life of Bees”.. oh yes.

    Also, love the new look of the site and that you’re using your name — and a friend recently mentioned to me a book called “The Shamanic Way of the Bee” that has me all kinds of curious!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Sara. I think her transformation is evident in Secret Life. So much symbolism around the Black Madonna and sacred mother, plus all the Biblical and pre-Biblical bee stuff. I might have to check that book out too!

  3. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Excellent Debra,
    Thankyou for this story. Actions from the heart are most powerful.
    “Follow the detour that expresses your soul’s deepest longing”…….that’s a nice touch.
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, David! I’m beginning to believe late blooming is all about the detours…

  4. Louise Behiel
    | Reply

    Haven’t read the book but I love reading about women who make big changes late in life. Louise Hays started Hay House Publishing at 61. Truly an amazing woman, like Sue. now I’m off to Amazon to buy this book

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks for stopping by, Louise! Didn’t know that about Louise Hay. Very inspiring. I think you’ll really enjoy the book!

  5. florence fois
    | Reply

    Dear Debra Eve … I want to take this time to thank you for your great blog. From a late bloomer, ex-hippie booming flower child to a great inspiration for all of us who came to this life “later” … I am grateful to have met you.

    I will be on a blog break and will see you after Jan 4 of our new 2012. Enjoy the Holiday Season and keep bringing us stories of other late bloomers 🙂

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Florence! Looks like we have the same resume 😉 Happy holidays and enjoy your break.

  6. Alicia Street
    | Reply

    Great post, Debra! I adore Sue Monk Kidd’s novels, probably like Mermaid Chair best. Thanks for inspiring those of us who didn’t get it right the first time around.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks for stopping by, Alicia. She is a fascinating lady who had great courage to follow her heart.

  7. Marianne
    | Reply

    I like what later bloomers can learn from Sue Monk Kidd. I’m still searching for my “soul’s deepest longing”. Haven’t felt like I can actually grab hold of it. It seems to be a journey that continually changes. Oh well, it sure is an interesting journey.

    Wishing you a wonderful holiday season, Debra.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      It is an interesting journey! Like you, mine changes, too. But I think one day it becomes obvious. Happy holidays to you too, Marianne.

  8. Kourtney Heintz
    | Reply

    Debra, thanks for this terrific look at Sue Monk Kidd’s spiritual journey and how it impacted her writing. 🙂 I think it’s wonderful how her husband supported her through those tough times too.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks so much, Kourtney. And I agree, it sounds like her husband went on his own journey!

  9. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I loved that book and was glad to learn more about the author. I also enjoyed the Carl Jung quote. Thanks Debra.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      You’re welcome, Darlene! She’s such a talent and I find her spiritual journey as fascinating as her writing one.

  10. Nansi Bohne
    | Reply

    I love the movie, “the Secret Life of Bees,” I just finished reading
    “When the Heart Waits” and I was much surprised when you mentioned, “Hope for the Flowers” I have the book and have re-read it many times.

    Nansi Bohne

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      I’ve not gotten to “When the Heart Waits” Yet, Nansi. Thanks for reminding me. I don’t remember mentioning “Hope for the Flowers” but have heard it’s a wonderful book. All good stuff. Thank you for stopping by!

  11. Francine
    | Reply

    I loved this book too and later the movie. Well done Sue Monk Kidd and thank you Debra for bringing this background and story to us.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Thank you, Francine! So sorry I missed this comment earlier. It is a beautiful, timeless story and one, I think, mirrors Sue’s own spiritual journey in many ways.

  12. Chris Edgar
    | Reply

    I love her statements about how her creative work is her deepest form of prayer — I can relate to that. The only way to truly honor whatever force has given me the capacity to create and made me a human being is to use those capacities to the greatest extent possible and make sacrifices in the service of that goal.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Thank you, Chris. I always appreciate your cogent and inspiring comments. I, too, consider creativity the greatest thing we can do for ourselves and share with others.

Leave a Reply