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Kathryn Stockett is still amazed at the success of her book, "The Help."
"I never thought anybody was going to read it in the first place," Stockett says. That also could mean she never thought anyone would listen to it either, as an Audiobook.
"The Help" is written in dialect — several of them. The three main characters are Skeeter, the young white writer, and Aibileen and Minny, two black maids. Three distinct voices and accents. And throughout the book are other voices, of Southern women, men and children, black and white. That would seem to be a challenge all on its own, let alone the touchy subject matter, but not for Stockett.
"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."
And now she's heard them again, on the audio version of "The Help."
"It's amazing," she says, with special compliments to Octavia Spencer, the actress who voices the sections by Minny, a stubborn maid whose mouth gets her in trouble.
"Octavia is feisty," Stockett says of her friend. "I begged them to give that role to Octavia and ... it's amazing."
Spencer, an actress from Montgomery, Ala., and now in Los Angeles, says she has read the book three times and listened to it twice.
"I love this book. If I weren't friends with Kathryn, I would still love this book."
Stockett based the Minny character on her friend. "I didn't know what to think," Spencer says of first hearing about that.
"What? I don't know what this is," she says. "Is this gonna be like Mammy from 'Gone With the Wind'? After reading about the third page, I was in love with Aibileen. And I knew it wasn't going to be that at all."
"I don't see it as a book about race. It's more about how people relate to each other," she says. "Not in a preachy, didactic tone. Very humorous."
Narrating a book is not at all the same as being an actress, Spencer says.
This was her first, and perhaps only, experience with voicing a book. Although she's already had other offers.
"I had to read it exactly from the text," she says. "With acting, you can ad lib a little bit, add pauses or sighs. That's not at all permitted for narrating. You have to stay true to what the writer's intent was."
The intent, and the result, Spencer says, are worthy. "It's very authentic, the way she wrote it.
"It portrays different socioeconomic levels, education levels," she says. "I don't believe a person who is educated is necessarily intelligent ... or vice versa."
Addressing the racism was difficult for Stockett, in some ways.
"I was always taught that it was tacky to discuss race, unladylike," Stockett says.
And that's the novel's conflict. Talking about race was risky then, and nearly every character in "The Help" is taking huge risks by writing about it.
Spencer says the story addresses race, but reaches beyond to individuals.
"It's not polarizing in any way. It brings people together in more ways," Spencer says. "It makes us reflect on how things were. Great strides have been taken and many lessons learned. We're moving forward."
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