Friday Morning Bookclub

August 6, 2011

The Help Controversy: Kathryn Stockett Speaks Out!

Filed under: The Help — susanbright @ 6:48 pm

The movie The Help opens this month and is sure to be a huge success as was Kathryn Stockett’s book. The Help was voted The Friday Morning bookclub’s Favorite Book of 2009 and I am looking forward to seeing the movie. The opening of the movie has  brought new attention to the law suit facing Stockett. 60-year-old Ablene Cooper, who worked as a nanny for Stockett’s brother, filed a lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett, claiming that the character Aibileen Clark was based on her life. Yes, there are  similarities. Both have a gold tooth, both lost a son to cancer and both were called Aibee by the children they cared for.  According to many of the articles Kathryn Stockett’s brother Robert Stockett III is supporting Cooper, causing a huge family rift between sister and brother.

Here is  Kathryn Stockett’s response which appeared in USA Today:

“The character ‘Aibileen Clark’ in The Help is a fictional character and is not intended to depict Mrs. Cooper. I’ve met Mrs. Cooper only briefly. I used the name ‘Aibileen’ because it resonated with ‘Constantine,’ the beloved woman who took care of the book’s main character in her youth. As readers of The Help know, my Aibileen is a true heroine: she is intelligent, an author, a devoted servant of the Lord and a good mother.”

Often I have heard authors recommend that you write about “what you know”, which is what Stockett was doing. I am sure that all authors “borrow” traits from real people and I wonder how often people see themselves in books. What do you think? As a writer, how much can you borrow from the people you know? If Ablene Cooper wins this case, how do you think it will affect future works of fiction?  

Here are a couple of articles on the subject

If you haven’t read it yet, get The Help now!



  1. It is probably a good idea to make name changes that are not so similar when borrowing from a real person, or let them know in advance. A gold tooth is a very superficial similarity, a son dying of cancer is much more personal. I would think there would need to be more similarities to win in court but Ablene’s monetary request is not excessive–maybe she just expects to settle out of court.

    Comment by Laura — August 8, 2011 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

  2. According to the Washington Post there will be a hearing August 16th at which time the Judge will determine if there is enough evidence to allow the case to move forward. He also has the option to grant Stockett’s motion and dismiss the case. How interesting that this is all happening within a week of the opening of the movie!

    Comment by susanbright — August 11, 2011 @ 10:20 am | Reply

  3. I write a little and all of my stories have some basis in fact. However, its just common sense to change the names to protect the innocent. In the case of this story, not much creativity in naming the characters appears to be the case. Why name a character with the same initials and similar spelling to someone and then claim it doesn’t represent them?

    Psychologists say we see ourselves in different lights. Sometimes, we just don’t realize how others see us… its easy to become offended.

    I hope it works out. The story is an important one; the characters are strong, intelligent and authentic…

    Comment by C S Stone (@SynergisticPen) — August 11, 2011 @ 11:55 am | Reply

  4. Abileen’s son did not die of cancer in The Help. He died in a work accident.

    Comment by Junkie — September 4, 2011 @ 11:16 am | Reply

  5. Just a note, Ms. Cooper’s son died of cancer. The character’s son died in a work accident.

    Comment by Phyllis Reid — September 12, 2011 @ 9:53 am | Reply

  6. I missed comment #4 when I posted mine. Sorry about the duplication. I am sure there are many people in Jackson, MS who could find strong resemblences in their lives to characters in this book. So, she used Ms. Cooper’s first name spelled similarly. Ms. Cooper said she was upset by the portrayal of the black women/maids of that time. It is a work of fiction. I’m so glad the lawsuit was dismissed and I look forward to future books by Ms. Stockett.

    Comment by Phyllis Reid — September 12, 2011 @ 9:58 am | Reply

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