KQM: Believe it or not, when they told me I had a tumor, I didn’t get scared—I got pissed because I didn’t have time to have a brain tumor. I had a deadline for a book with Simon and Schuster. My daughter was in her senior year in high school at Central, and I had to help her with the prom. I’d just found out that one of my books had been nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and I had to go to California. And I had to plan an engagement party for my brother. Man, I didn’t have time for no damn brain tumor.
SJ: When did you decide to write about it?
KQM: In between the time of the diagnosis and the surgery, I had the idea to write this book. My twin sister, Kitty, was living with me at the time. And I was arguing with somebody over the phone, and she told me I better calm down because I was so sick I could kill myself. I said, “I ain’t scared o’ death. Let that bitch come pulling on my sleeve, and she’ll know better than to fuck around with an angry-ass black woman.”
SJ: That is such a controversial title. What made you decide on it?
KQM: Because that’s what I am. And it’s funny, because so many of my friends, when they heard the title, said, “Karen, you don’t come off like an angry woman.” But I am an angry woman, and thank God I am. I actually embrace my anger. In my opinion, anger is one of the things that can propel you forward in life. It’s anger that has helped me rebel against being a victim and do something so that I wouldn’t be in a situation where I could be victimized. So I consider anger a good thing. Rosa Parks was an angry-ass black woman. All her life, she’d been told to move to the back of the bus, and all her life she complied. But one rainy evening, she looked up at the bus driver who was telling her to give up her seat, and she finally became angry. Angry enough to simply say, “No.” And that “no” propelled the civil rights movement forward. Harriet Tubman was another angry-ass black woman. She got one whipping too many and did something about it. Anger moves you to do something about a situation instead of just accepting it and becoming bitter. Bitterness is anger turned inward and eventually just makes you a miserable person who snaps at people for no reason and finds reason to pick on others because you can’t face the thing that makes them angry. Me? I confront the issue and change it. That doesn’t mean I go around yelling at people, but it does mean I don’t sit around and let people—or life—crap on my head.
SJ: Is that why you write?
KQM: I write to keep my ass outta jail. I have this idea for a story, and I’ve had this idea for years. There’s a woman who was in an abusive marriage, and she gets out of it, and her former husband marries her next door neighbor. The new wife starts calling the main character and telling her she’s being abused. They put together a plot to kill the husband. The second wife does it, but the first wife gets framed. Here’s the thing: I’m never going to write that story. You see, the first time I came up with how the husband was going to be killed, it was by a hit-and-run. The second time I wrote it, the husband was hit by a car and dragged half a mile. The third time, I had him tied to a chair with his hands behind his back and his face is painted with acid. All of these things soothe me when my former husband calls and pisses me off. Now if he gets on my nerves, I just go down to my computer and kill him on the screen. Depending how bad he gets on my nerves dictates how gruesome his death is going to be. If I couldn’t kill him on screen, I might be tempted to kill him in real life. So, writing keeps me out of jail.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, Solomon.
SJ: I do, because writing not only kept me out of jail; it kept me out of the grave. If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be here, because life on the streets would’ve killed me. You know, I recently bought the Daily News , and I read about them closing down the Ridge Avenue Shelter, which is a place where I went when I was trying to get clean. I slept in Bed 65. I’ll never forget it. So, you know, hearing about them closing it down brought back so many memories and made me wonder what’s going to happen to men who are trying to get their lives together. I mean, it’s nice that Stephen Starr has a catering kitchen there now, and the area is gentrifying. But what’s going to happen to the man who’s trying to get clean? What’s going to happen to him? How is he going to get off these streets and get back to his wife? How is he going to get back to his children? How is he going to get his life back? What’s going to happen to those people? I wonder because those people are me. I started writing while I was at the Ridge Avenue Shelter—first for the Philadelphia Tribune, and then for myself. Doing that literally changed my life. So, yeah, I know what you mean when you say writing keeps you out of jail. Because writing has kept me alive.
Solomon Jones and Karen E. Quinones Miller read from their new books on Thurs., Nov.1, 7:30pm. Free. Central Library, 19th and Vine sts. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
Go behind the scenes with photographer Kyle Cassidy, who shot this week's cover!
We're so proud of prolific PW alum Solomon Jones, we could just burst—but not before reading his 10th book and eighth novel, the Philadelphia-based crime noir "The Dead Man's Wife," which was released Tuesday.
In the first excerpt of Chapter One of Jones' eighth novel, a former figure in Detective Mike Coletti's past makes some interesting moves—in and out of the courtroom.
As Coletti watched, he remembered a time long ago when Andrea was a young vice cop and he was a rising star in homicide. Back then, he was willing to do anything to have her, but now Andrea belonged to someone else, and there was nothing he could do to change that.
The acclaimed author tells her own story in this drama-filled novel set in her gritty Harlem hometown. Get a taste of it via the debut of three excerpts of its first chapter.
When we lived in the basement we had out and out rats. I remember my mom bought a cat ’cause she thought it would scare the rats, but one day we woke up and the cat was dead—a rat had bitten the shit out of it.
Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014