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A gifted, beautiful young woman in the 1920s, May Edward Chinn dreams only of music. For years she accompanies the famed singer Paul Robeson. However, a racist professor ends her hopes of becoming a concert pianist. But from one dashed dream blooms another: May would become a doctor instead---the first black female physician in all of New York.
Giddy with the wonder of the Harlem Renaissance and fueled by firebrand friends like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, May doggedly pursues her ambitions while striving to overcome the pains of her past: the death of a fiancé, a lost child, and a distant father ravished by the legacy of slavery. With every grief she encounters, a resilient piece of herself locks into place. At times risking her life--attending to men stabbed in their homes and women left to die in filthy alleys--May struggles to carve out a place for herself within a medical world that still teaches that a "Negro" brain is not anatomically wired for higher thinking. Yet against the odds, she achieves her goal, starts her own practice, and becomes one of the first cancer specialists in the city.
Alive with the pulse of black unrest in 1920s New York, this beautifully textured novel moves with fearlessness and gracethrough a history that is by turns ugly and sublime. With Angel of Harlem, critically acclaimed author Kuwana Haulsey gives poetic voice to the story of a remarkable woman who had the courage to dream and live beyond her era's limitations.
1. Throughout the book, several of the characters experience moments when they are forced to make decisions that alter the course of their life. Discuss these turning points and what they reveal about each of the major characters.
2. One of May's greatest regrets is that her father cannot love her as she is. To May, her father has always seemed more focused on what she should be rather than what she wanted to be. Is this true?
3. William and Lulu Chinn are two strong but often opposing characters in Angels of Harlem. Both are dominant forces in May's life and she is very much the child of both parents. Discuss the ways the two shape her character.
4. William Chinn is haunted by his past and his own failed ambitions throughout his life. How much of his own history influences his choices and his treatment of May?
5. As a family, the Chinns are rarely apart from each other. Although there are periods where Lulu, William and May are separated, they ultimately reunite and by the end, have spent many years in uneasy company with each other. Discuss the complicated nature of the Chinn family. Why do they stay together?
6. In medicine May finds a purpose that she did not have as a musician. How does her choice of medicine change her life?
7. Profound loss is a theme that runs throughout Angels of Harlem. Neither William or May ever fully recover after losing people they love. Explain how the loss of Fanny and the loss of Coleman and Phillip shape May and William Chinn as characters. What is the significance of Fanny's death and the way it occurred?
8. Many of May's decisions are made against the wishes her father. Does his opposition affect on her? Does she succeed in spite of her father or because of him?
9. May's education allows her to break free from the life of menial labor both of her parents must endure. Lulu places great faith in education while William does not. Why? Does William discourage May's education because he is afraid she will fail or that she will not be permitted to succeed?
10. Of the three men May falls in love with, the first disappoints her, the second is taken from her by death and the last she refuses. Why does she push Steven away? Does her experience with Gilbert and Coleman affect this choice? Why is she unable to allow herself happiness?
11. Much of the Angel of Harlem takes place during the Jazz age, the Harlem Renaissance, and a growing civil rights movement. How do real events shape the story? How do the development of the characters and plot mirror real life events?
Posted September 24, 2005
This was definitely a book whereas I was absolutely engrossed by the style of writing as well as the content. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the life story of Dr. Mae Chin. This should be required reading for literature classes in high school and colleges especially African- American literature and history classes. It dealth with various positive Harlem Renaissance characters as well. It is also a book that shows that YOU CAN MAKE IT IN THIS WORLD, IF YOU JUST PERSEVERE AND DON'T GIVE UP. If Mae made it successfully during all those days of turbulence,hardships and poverty stricken conditions, we can all make it. Congratulations to the author on a job well done.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2005
May Edward Chinn was the first black female doctor in Harlem. The Angel of Harlem is an accounting of the trials she experienced, through childhood, schooling and adulthood to reach this lofty accomplishment. Beautifully written, it seems that Kuwana Haulsey has captured the essence of such a historical figure in this fictional adaptation of her life. I¿m so intrigued; I would like to follow up with researching Dr. Chinn to enhance my knowledge of another important progenitor in African American History. As a child, May was the apple of her mother¿s eye. I was impressed that she was able to achieve solely on the great sacrifices her mother made for her education and social upbringing. Her father, sometimes in and out of the home, if anything was the catalyst to make her achieve high marks in her every effort. The relationships between her mother and father along with her own relationship with her father could best be described as strained. Her mother worked numerous jobs sometimes simultaneously to afford to keep May in a good educational environment. Her mother encouraged and praised her at every milestone. As she progressed through school, sometimes attending private institutions, teachers and other prominent people recognized ambition and encouraged her potential. Truly demonstrating that people generally care and can look past color. The people who crossed May¿s path were truly extraordinary as well. Paul Roberson, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes were some of those prominent people who were her running buddies during the Harlem Renaissance. She experienced many hurts through her life, including several failed romances. I was struck with her persistence and transcendence through an unparalleled life. Ms. Haulsey writes beautifully. The Angel of Harlem is a wonderful blend of excellent writing, strong characterization and impressive research. Dr. Chinn is truly an example for women to follow. Although set in the early 1920¿s, most of the doors she forced open are being held open by African American women who still feel they have to strive twice as hard to be accepted. Reading books like this encourages us all to believe that soon those doors will swing on welcome hinges for future generations. This book should be counted amongst required reading for African American literature or history classes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 16, 2004
I was not aware of this Black angel until I read the novel. My knowledge has been totally increased on Dr. Chinn regarding her life, the atrocious and audious journey she took in order to claim the status as the first female black physician in the NYC area. She was a pioneer and a warrior who faced racism, sexism, extreme poverty, lost loves and a lot of emotional pain. Ms. Hausley has provided society with an excellent biography when she wrote this beautiful story of such a beautiful and dedicated Black woman, Dr. May Edward Chinn. Definitely a stirring novel that is one of the best!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.