Synopses & Reviews
An African American Breakfast at Tiffanys
-a hip, refreshingly candid tale of identity and self—discovery from the critically acclaimed author of The View from Here
and Walking Through Mirrors.
Mason Randolph, a black preppie of impeccable Southern pedigree, is bound for Stanford Law School after graduating from college. Before embarking on the path to his golden future, however, he takes a detour through Harlem, where he intends to live "authentically" with "real black people."
Mason takes the name "Malik" and moves into the orbit of the ever—fabulous Carmen, uptown diva and doyenne of Harlem. Carmen, always ready to have a handsome young man at her fabulous soirees and to add to her devoted entourage, happily takes him under her wing. Fueled by his parents' money and dodging the people who remember him as Mason Randolph, "Malik" masquerades as a "ghettonian," exploring the wonders and pleasures of a Harlem in the midst of a second Renaissance. But his odyssey takes a different turn when he meets Kyra, whose world mirrors the one he has abandoned. As he contemplates the choices Kyra has made, and begins to reexamine his own presumptions about identity and authenticity, Mason realizes that everyone has something to hide and that to get what we want, we have to be willing to let go of our secrets.
People compared Brian Keith Jackson's remarkable first novel, The View from Here, to the works of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, and Publishers Weekly called it "an extraordinary debut...[by] a formidable craftsman and exceptionally gifted storyteller." A novel rich in humor and insight, The Queen of Harlem will earn Jackson a much—deserved place in the center of todays literary landscape.
From the Hardcover edition.
The author of The View from Here and Walking through Mirrors serves up a refreshing novel of life in Harlem during the second Renaissance as it follows Mason Randolph, a black preppie of impecable Southern pedigree headed for Stanford Law School, who moves to Harlem with the intention of living with
About the Author
BRIAN KEITH JACKSON
has received fellowships from Art Matters, the Jerome Foundation, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. The View from Here
won the American Library Association Literary Award for First Fiction from the Black Caucus of America. Jackson lives in Harlem.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
The Queen of Harlem
A Novel by Brian Keith Jackson
Author of The View From Here and Walking Through Mirrors
Reading Group Companion
The Queen of Harlem
U.S. $22.95/$34.95 Can.
The Queen of Harlem Reading Group Companion, Copyright 2001 by The Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
1. Jackson opens his novel with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” In what ways does Mason fear his talent and economic power? What does the final chapter tell us about Carmens true fears?
2. How does the evolution of Harlem reflect the lives of its residents? What does the opening scene convey about Harlems second Renaissance, especially compared to its first one in the early twentieth century?
3. What is the symbolic role of Jim, Masons dread-headed white buddy from college? Besides being the character who knows the truth about Mason, what does Jims presence say about authenticity in general, particularly among whites who appropriate aspects of black culture? How does Malcolms role compare with Jims?
4. When Mason steps off the number six train and receives his stinging introduction to Harlem from the real Malik, what keeps Mason from heading back downtown? What drives him to stay and invent a “ghettonian” version of himself?
5. How is Mason transformed by his mugging? What kind of turning point occurs during that scene, particularly when he orders his mugger to listen to the stolen CD?
6. Mason receives a lot of mothering. Compare the mothering styles of Joyce and Carmen. How do those two differ from Granny and her generation?
7. How is Masons attraction to Carmen different from his attraction to Kyra? What do both women teach Mason about “keeping it real”? Why is Kyra able to navigate the fine line between privilege and greed so successfully?
8. Though the chasm between rich and poor is a universal source of friction, why is this friction sometimes particularly intense in black America? Why is the real Malik so personally offended by Masons clean-cut appearance? What does Jackson tell us about the way wealth and destitution coexist in Harlem today?
9. As part of his disguise, Mason has to learn a new dialect. What does his new speech style suggest about the urge to shun the language of your oppressors? What are some of the empowering characteristics of Masons new way of communicating? How does he feel about his old mannerisms when he has to make small talk with Kyras parents?
10. New York is often thought of as a city where its possible to reinvent yourself an unlimited number of times. As Mason travels among several neighborhoods, and particularly when he is forced to walk a hundred blocks to get home, what does he observe about the many identities of New York itself?
11. What does Masons mother reveal to him at The Four Seasons? Does her arrival provide him with an even bigger dose of reality than Harlem?
12. As much as Carmen wanted to be the Queen of Harlem, didnt Mason equally enjoy playing the part of her courtesan? What does the final chapter say about the imaginary quality of all self-perception?
13. In her farewell note to Mason, Carmen says, “Sometimes freedom is slavery in disguise.” When has that phrase proven true in your life? What has enslaved Mason and Carmen throughout the novel?
14. Discuss some of the ways in which Masons Harlem experience plays out in your town or neighborhood. When have you felt compelled to hide behind a false self? What are some of the daydreams that keep you going?