This reading group guide forAn Angry-Ass Black Womanincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Karen E. Quinones Miller. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Bestselling author Karen E. Quinones Miller turns the mirror on herself in An Angry-Ass Black Woman—her first autobiographical novel. After a medical crisis leaves her in a coma, Ke-Ke reflects on her childhood and the events that led her to take charge of her own destiny. This part biographical, part fictional account opens on the streets of Harlem, where poverty, abuse, violence, racism, and drugs are a fixture of everyday life. Filled with vibrant anecdotes about growing up in an urban jungle and her journey from dropping out of school to reentering and graduating from college and becoming a successful writer, Miller captures the hardships and the bonds that formed between families and neighbors growing up in Harlem.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the provocative title of this autobiographical novel—An Angry-Ass Black Woman. What were your first reactions to this title? Why were you drawn to read this “true-life” novel? Did your interpretation of the description “an angry-ass black woman” change after you finished this book? If so, how?
2. The setting of An Angry-Ass Black Woman plays a very important role in Ke-Ke’s story. Discuss the ways in which growing up in Harlem and in an urban environment shaped her childhood. How would you characterize her relationship with the city?
3. Of the four Quinones children, two grew up to lead productive, successful lives, while the other two succumbed to a life of abuse and addiction. Why do you think Ke-Ke and Joe T. were able to overcome the suffering and hardship of their youth and turn their lives around in a way that Kitty and David were not?
4. Both of Karen’s parents were knowledgeable and well read, traits they tried to pass on to their children. Why do you think Ke-Ke’s mother eventually allowed her to drop out of school? How might educating herself through books and newspapers have molded Ke-Ke in a way that learning in a classroom couldn’t have?
5. While there were many negative influences on the streets of Harlem, there were also a few bright spots in Ke-Ke’s childhood. Discuss the people in her life who made a positive influence or set a good example.
6. For the author, it’s easy to pinpoint when she became a self-described “angry-ass black woman.” It wasn’t until a few weeks after her traumatic rape that her anger really set in. Reread and discuss the hallucination she experiences when given gas at the dentist’s office. (pages 142–144) How did you react to this passage? Discuss the running theme and prevalence of racism in An Angry-Ass Black Woman.
7. When does Ke-Ke come up against racism and how does she deal with it? How does racism affect the people around her? On pages 46–48, Ke-Ke discusses her mother’s thoughts on racial integration. Do you agree? Why or why not?
8. After giving birth to Camille, readers witness Ke-Ke’s transformation into a mother. In what ways do you think becoming a mother changed Karen’s life? How did Camille, specifically, change her life?
9. Family ties and loyalty is paramount to both Ke-Ke and the character in An Angry-Ass Black Woman. How do the Quinoneses show their loyalty to each other? How does this loyalty both empower them and cause them pain?
10. An Angry-Ass Black Woman is an autobiographical novel. How did the knowledge that this novel was based on true events impact your reading? Have you ever read an autobiographical novel before? Why do you think the author chose to approach her life story from a fictional perspective?
11. At the end of the novel, the author writes: “I know that my anger . . . was an act more than anything else. . . .I know that underneath the anger was a smart, sassy, happy person waiting in the cut. It’s time I let the anger go.” (page 267) Why do you think she describes her anger as an act? Do you think her near-death experience allowed her to let go of her anger? What other factors in her life do you think led her to find her place of peace?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Try your hand at autobiographical fiction. Reflect on a pivotal, interesting, or humorous moment in your life and then write a short story about it. What is it like to take a fictional approach to your own life?
2. Take a cue from Ke-Ke and spend some time learning more about a topic that caught your eye in An Angry-Ass Black Woman. Maybe you’re interested in learning more about the race riots of the 1960s, how the United States’ welfare program works, “Bumpy” Johnson, or Harlem in general. Head to the library or do some research online and share your findings at your book club meeting. What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned?
3. Karen E. Quinones Miller is the author of several bestselling books, including Satin Doll and I’m Telling. Consider reading one of her other novels for your next book club discussion. How does the writing, plot structure, and characters compare to those in An Angry-Ass Black Woman?
A Conversation with Karen E. Quinones Miller
After having already written a few novels that were, to various extents, based on your life, when and why did you decide to tell your own story more openly and directly in An Angry-Ass Black Woman?
It was in 2005, after I came home and was recovering from my brain surgery. I really had time to reflect on my life, and how it affected the way I interact with people and how I view issues. I’m funny about a lot of things. For instance, I don’t allow people to use the “n” word in my house. I don’t drink orange soda. I hate the date March 21. People have asked me why, and most of the time I didn’t bother to try to explain because I didn’t think they’d get it. I thought this book would be a good way to explain a lot of the reasons I do what I do, and feel how I feel. But also writing this book has been quite therapeutic for me . . . writing about the various events that shaped my life has made me really analyze them and myself. And I actually feel I know myself better because of it.
An Angry-Ass Black Woman is an autobiographical novel. What does that phrase mean to you and what does it mean in terms of the content of this book? Why did you decide to tell your story in this format as opposed to in a straight-up memoir?
An autobiographical novel, in my view, is an autobiography that doesn’t change the outcomes of events, but sometimes downplays some things, and changes some of the minor details as to protect identities. Most people don’t realize it, but Claude Brown’s classic, Manchild in the Promised Land, is also an autobiographical novel.
How was the experience of writing this book different from that of your previous books?
It took me longer to write this book because there was a lot of real reflection and self-analyzing going on as I was writing. At times it was hard, like when I was replaying the deaths of loved ones, and the tragedies that happened to others. Several times I was writing a passage, and I had to wonder . . . was there something I could have done that would have made things turn out better. I do think I’m a better person for writing this book. Really having to look back at your life has to have some effect on you.
How did your family members feel about your decision to write an autobiographical novel? How did they react to your portrayal of them?
There were none who specifically said they didn’t want me to write it, but I know some were—and are—a little nervous. No more nervous than me, though.
If you had the power to change the ending for one character in An Angry-Ass Black Woman, who would it be?
Kitty. And I’ll just leave it at that.
Throughout the book it’s clear that you’ve always been an avid reader. Who are some of the authors that have influenced you as an author?
Langston Hughes, most definitely! That man has gotten me through some very hard times! I love both his poetry and prose, and would go back and read certain works when feeling depressed just so I could start feeling better . . . and it never failed to work. I especially love his short stories featuring Jess Semple, aka Simple. And I pretty much feel the same way about Mark Twain. I love his novels and his short stories. Like Hughes, the sharp wit that is always displayed by his down-home-sprung characters really appeals to me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who are looking to turn their dreams into a reality?
My advice is if you want to write, just go ahead and write! Worry about getting published, yes . . . but not to the point that you don’t even start writing. Also, you’ve got to read. There are two things that will make you a better writer—reading and writing. You’ve got to do both! Lastly, I would suggest that—if possible—you join a writing group. You’ll love the support, but also your manuscript will be the better because of it.
Do you still return to Harlem often? If so, how has it changed or how has your vision of it changed since you were young?
I still visit ten–twelve times a year, and yes . . . it has changed drastically. Many of the changes are for the good—I’m glad to see it being built up, and dilapidated buildings being renovated, but I hate that the rents are now so high that many African-American people can no longer afford to live there. It’s ironic . . . the way things are going, ten years from now people are going to read Manchild in the Promised Land and/or An Angry-Ass Black Woman and not be able to relate it to the Harlem of their present.
How does your story continue from here? Are you working on any new projects?
My story continues because my life continues . . . and the combination of family and writing is what keeps me going. I’m actually working on a suspense novel at the moment, and I recently wrote a screenplay that I’m thinking of shopping around. But you can count on me sticking around in the literary world, and I hope not to have a four-year disappearance like I had since my last book was published!