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Karen E. Quinones Miller is a staff writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer covering West Philadelphia. Born and raised in Harlem, Karen dropped out of school at the age of 13, and spent the majority of her teenage years experiencing street life first-hand. At age 22, Karen joined the Navy and realized for the first time that loan sharking is not a legal business (although she still believes that loan sharks perform a vital service) and that it is immoral to break someone's fingers if they cheat at poker. After spending five years in the Navy, Karen married, had a child, and divorced -- all within a two-year period.
She moved to Philadelphia at age 29, and got a secretarial job with The Philadelphia Daily News but, after three years of complaining about media coverage of people living below the poverty level, she enrolled at Temple University and began working as a correspondent for The Philadelphia New Observer -- a weekly African American newspaper. Karen graduated magna cum laude from Temple with a B.A. in journalism, confirming her belief that the only thing she missed by skipping high school was the senior prom. In 1994, Karen started her first permanent job at The Virginian-Pilot Norfolk, Va. Less than a year later she left to join the staff at The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has also worked as a correspondent for People Magazine. Karen currently lives in Philadelphia with a cat that she despises, a dog that she has learned to tolerate, and her 12-year-old daughter, Camille, whom she worships. Satin Doll was her first novel.
Angry-Ass Black Woman
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Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing; Original edition (October 2, 2012)
This sassy, shocking autobiographical novel captures the racial tensions, the hardships, and the bonds that formed between families and neighbors growing up poor in Harlem.
The Essence bestselling author of Uptown Dreams delivers a fictionalized look at the life she lived before she achieved success as an established writer. “Ke-Ke” (Kay-Kay) grew up on 117th Street in extreme poverty. After an accident leaves her in a coma in her late forties, her beloved family around her in the hospital, she remembers moments from her childhood and the events that would later shape her desires to get out of Harlem and make something of herself. Her sometimes poignant and sometimes hilarious memories—like trying to rob the landlord to pay her family’s back rent—are interspersed with her present-day family’s concerns for her health. Filled with vibrant anecdotes about childhood in Harlem and her journey from dropping out of school, to re-entering and graduating from college, becoming a journalist and then an author, Miller showcases the love experienced by her family and neighbors and the bond secured between them as part of their common upbringing.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (February 15, 2008)
Shanika Ann Jenkins is the pride of her African-American family; smart, beautiful, and born with blue eyes and blonde hair. Though her grandmother and father are happy because she represents years of passing down light skin and marrying well, Shanika's mother insists on her name reflecting her African-American heritage so that she will always be proud of who she is. When Shanika gets the opportunity to work for a PR firm in New York, she finds that everyone assumes she is white; she also notices that being white has it advantages, from getting respect at work to getting picked up by a cab when other African-Americans are passed by. When she starts dating a successful white colleague, she continues with the lie, despite the guilt she feels at disappointing her mother and her heritage. When she falls for a handsome African-American business man, she must finally face who she is and what she's done, even if it means losing everything and everyone she loves.
Mayme Johnson and Karen E. Quinones Miller
Publisher: Oshun Publishing Company, Inc.; First edition (February 1, 2008)
From Mayme Hatcher Johnson, 93, widow of Bumpy Johnson
When I heard that the Harlem dope dealer, Frank Lucas, wrote a magazine article a few years back claiming that he was Bumpy's right hand man, and that Bumpy died in his arms I was upset. He lied.
Video - The Official Harlem Launch Party for the book the Harlem Godfather: The Rap on my Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson Hosted by: Mrs. Mayme Hatcher Johnson (Bumpy's 93-year-old widow)
Now they've done a movie starring Denzel Washington called 'American Gangster' which tells the life of Frank Lucas and will perpetrate that lie. I'm now steaming.
And when I watched the BET episode of American Gangster featuring Frank Lucas I was furious the people with me wanted to turn off the television. Saying that he stayed with me and Bumpy for six months. Did anyone notice that he said we lived on the corner of 121st Street, and then he pointed to a brownstone and said, "Right there. My boss lived right there?" Well, Bumpy and I lived on 120th Street. 2 West 120th Street to be exact. And we lived in an apartment building (apartment 3I), not a brownstone. Now do you see how Frank lies?
Frank was little more than a flunky to Bumpy, and a flunky whom Bumpy never fully trusted. Frank -- Bumpy said -- was a liar, and it's easier to trust a thief than a liar. A thief, Bumpy reasoned, steals because he needs money; a liar lies for the hell of it.
Now why would Frank tell such lies? Because he figures that since Junie Byrd, Finley Hoskins and Sonny Chance -- all of whom were then when Bumpy died -- are all dead and there's no one alive to reveal the fact that he's lying. Maybe he's figured I'm dead, too. Well, he's wrong ' I'm 93, and old ' but I'm still kicking (not as high as I once did), and I have all of my mental faculties.
There have been legends, myths, and rumors flying around about Bumpy for decades, and I've never spoken to confirm or deny any ' even when the movie 'Hoodlum' was released in 1997, and contained all kinds of factual errors about the man I love. But now I've finally decided to speak out. To set the record straight. To tell the truth and damn the devil. To let the world know about the real Bumpy Johnson.
Karen E. Quinones Miller is my collaborator for Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth 'Bumpy' Johnson. Karen grew up in Harlem, and she met my husband when she was a young child.
Let me also say that I'm sure that even reading this you may have some doubts as to whether I'm capable of writing a book. Well, yes, I am. No, let me rephrase that. I don't know anything about writing a book, and that's why I have Karen. I am, however, capable of telling Karen what needs to be in this book. I might be 93, but I'm not senile, I don't have Alzheimer's disease, and I don't suffer from dementia. And heck, I can even stay up late enough to watch the American Gangster series on BET! If any of you doubt this, make sure you come to the book launch party for Harlem Godfather ( we want to encourage everyone to come dressed as gangsters back in the 30s and 40s, and we're going to have a costume contest) and I'll tell you myself.
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Format: Hardcover, 272pp
Pub. Date: August 2006
Publisher: Warner Books, Incorporated
Regina Harris has been through it all, orphaned at 13 and forced to use street wits to survive. Now living in Harlem with her four-year-old daughter, she thinks her life has finally stabilized--but where there's Regina, there's always drama. She runs into a former boyfriend and, against her better judgment and the advice of friends, she resumes their steamy affair. Sparks fly when her U.S. Congressman ex-hubby decides he wants her back and her boyfriend decides he won't let her go. Life is no less dramatic for her three best friends--Yvonne can't tear herself from a lawyer turned violent junkie, Tamika and her family are being targeted by street thugs bent on revenge, and Puddin' still can't resist using any man in her sights to support bad habits.
Format: Hardcover, 256pp
Pub. Date: August 2004
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Tower. The place held such promise when it was built in
the late 1970s. It was Harlem's hope for a new beginning -- an affordable, safe
residence for people who couldn't afford to live downtown. But that was more
than twenty-five years ago, before the devastating crack scourge hit.
But the residents of Ida B. are resilient. They've built their own community and they look out for one another to the best of their abilities. Neighbors may argue, and even fight, but whenever one of them is in trouble, the whole building rallies around.
Twenty-five-year-old Brenda Carver is a welfare mother of four children who longs to be a writer; Rosa Rivera is an aspiring actress who will let nothing stand in the way of her career; Sharif Goldsby is a political activist determined to change the world, starting with Harlem and the Ida B. There's also Miss Jackie, the middle-aged, back-stabbing gossip; Vincent, the former bank robber turned scam artist; Mrs. Harris, the elderly neighborhood fence; and high school honor student Ricky, who hopes to be one of the scramblers on the corner -- hawking crack to passersby.
When a building resident kills herself and two of her children, the tenants make a collective vow to care for her surviving child.
But that's just the beginning of the tragedies facing the residents of the Ida B. A shocking crime occurs in the building, and everyone becomes a suspect. With accusations flying, the tight community of the Ida B. begins to collapse under the strain. And, to top it all, they learn that their home of more than twenty years is about to be torn down.
As the search for the killer intensifies, unsung heroes step forward -- at greatpersonal risk -- to right the wrongs that have been done. In Karen E. Quinones Miller's world, the people who stand out are the people who survive, and go on, against all odds, to share their wisdom and find their dreams. In a modern take on the classic sentiment, "There's no place like home," Ida B. affirms that home is a place we love, even when it is less than perfect.
What You Got
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Format: Hardcover, 240pp
Pub. Date: July 2003
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Trade
Eighteen-year-old college student Tiara Bynum is as pretty as a princess, and
just as spoiled. Her castle is the Harlem housing project where she lives with
her younger sister, Jo-Jo and her doting father Reggie. Her fiefdom is the
legion of men at her beck and call when she snaps her always perfectly manicured
fingers. She has no qualms about flaunting her charms to get what she wants
because she's 'got it like that.'
Reggie--a former professional gambler who was abandoned by his wife--would do anything for his daughters, even if it means jeopardizing the family finances in favor of his girls' material happiness. Though Reggie's sister, Charlene--a woman embittered by a disfiguring car accident-- pleads for restraint, her Thursday "family nights" pale in comparison to Reggie's Knicks tickets and shopping sprees.
Blissfully unaware of the recklessness of her father's splurges, Tiara believes she's the toast of the world. Her greatest goal is to find a rich, handsome man who will spoil her just as much as he does--or maybe even more. Go for the glitter, she urges herself. Who cares if it's gold. When two suitors arrive on the scene, Tiara prepares to be smitten. But when the one she secretly adores doesn't like her attitude, Tiara's trademark confidence frays into embarrassment, shame, and confusion.
Blindly determined to strike out on her own at any cost, Tiara lashes out against those who love her most. Yet the choices she makes, based on the way she's been raised, threaten to destroy not only Tiara, but her entire family.
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Format: Hardcover, 240pp.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Trade
Pub. Date: July 2002
Eleven-year-old Faith Freeman has a secret: She saw her stepfather molesting her twin sister, Hope. This unspoken truth clouds family relations for almost twenty years, until Faith decides she's had enough heavy weather. As if juggling her career as a New York literary agent, a loving relationship with her boyfriend, Henry, and the care of her aging (and agitated) mother weren't enough, Faith takes on the burden of her twin's wounded psyche. So damaged was Hope at the hands of incestuous "Papa" that the crackhouses of Harlem and prostitution on the boulevards of Queens beckon as an escape from an all-too-painful reality.
Just when Hope seems on the verge of turning herself around, she enacts a betrayal so unforgivable that the sisterly bond she so desperately -- yet secretly -- desires may be severed forever. With her whole family watching, Faith must call upon her gifts of language, compassion, and understanding to save her sister and herself.
For anyone who has ever chosen between speaking up and backing down, I'm Telling is the story of one family's darkest hour that lights the way toward love and redemption.
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Format: Hardcover, 320pp.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: July 2001
Top Selling Book On AALBC.com
Until that fateful moment when she was shot and left for dead, Regina Harris was living la vida loca with pimps and hustlers and using whatever money she had to get high and forget that she was living in poverty in Harlem. Now she's a college graduate and journalist who has turned her life around, living on the Upper West Side and hobnobbing with movers and shakers. She's become the classy Satin Doll of the Duke Ellington song...but she's never forgotten where she's from.
On a night out partying with her homegirls in Harlem, Regina meets aspiring
lawyer Charles Whitfield, who comes from a prominent, upper-class black family
in Philadelphia. As a relationship begins, Regina tries desperately to hide her
former life -- and her friendships with Yvonne, who's a single mother looking
for a man; Tamika, who's raising two kids while their father does time; and
Puddin', who has a weakness for bad boys and weed. But when Regina's past is
revealed, it threatens to destroy both her relationship with Charles and the
life she has worked so hard to create.
Excerpted from Satin Doll by Karen E.
Quinones Miller. Copyright ' 2000. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
The sound was loud, but not quite jarring enough to register instant recognition in her reefer-dulled brain.
It could have been a firecracker. It was loud enough, and the acrid smell of gunpowder filled the Harlem night air in the basement level courtyard of the brownstone. But a firecracker wouldnt have caused her cocaine-dealing companion to lurch forward into a set of garbage cans, his manicured hands flailing wildly in the air. Nor would it cause a dark red spot to appear on the back of his silk shirt. A spot that bubbled and grew bigger as she watched.
Another blast rang out. Boom! The dealer fell screaming to the ground.
The second blast followed an instant after the first, but in that time 19-year-old Regina Harris's brain had cleared enough for her to realize her big-time spending companion was shot, and she was in danger. Regina dropped her pocketbook and flexed her body to sprint, but before she could move, someone grabbed her head from behind and slammed her face into the brick wall. Again and again.
The coke-dealer was on all fours on the cement ground, gasping loudly. His eyes were wide, and his mouth dribbled a trail of bloody saliva as he tried a fast crawl out of the dark courtyard. Shit! a mans voice growled.
The hold on the back of Regina's head was released, and her body folded to the ground. Her nose was numb and dripping even more blood than her mouth, making it difficult for her to breathe. Semi-conscious, she watched in a daze as a man walked over to the scampering dealer, bent down and placed a gun against the back of his head, then let go with yet another resounding blast.
The dealer collapsed to the ground, deadly still.
I'm next, Regina thought, but try as she might she couldn't will herself to get up as the man walked back towards her.
Only a few feet away from her now, he pointed the gun and fired.
I'm shot. I'm dead, she thought, although she didn't feel the bullet that entered her battered body. Then all of a sudden the scream of a police siren filled the air. The man didn't hesitate. Gun in hand, he jumped over the courtyard railing and disappeared down the street. Oh, my God. Oh my God! From far away she recognized the hysterical voice as Tamika's. Oh, Regina are you dead? You dead?
Regina painfully opened her eyes and looked at her friends tear-stained face staring down at her in horror, and replied honestly, but in a slur, I don't know.
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