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A Reader's Guide

Pushkin and the Queen of Spades

About Pushkin and the Queen of Spades

Windsor Armstrong has a problem: her football superstar son, Pushkin X, is in love with a Russian lap dancer. In Windsor's opinion, Pushkin is throwing away everything she has worked for. When she was an unwed teenaged mother, Windsor left her shady Detroit roots behind to attend Harvard. She raised Pushkin to be fiercely intelligent, well-spoken, and proud. Now he lives for pro football and a white woman named Tanya. Outraged by her son's decisions but deeply devoted to loving him right, Windsor prepares to give up her last secret: the identity of Pushkin's father.

Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is a gutsy, provocative take on parenthood, love, and race. In Windsor, Randall has created a woman of fiery determination and large heart who wants only the best for her child. Alice Randall's thoroughly entertaining second novel gets to the heart of controversial issues.

About Alice Randall

Alice Randall is the author of the novels Pushkin and the Queen of Spades and The Wind Done Gone. She was born in Detroit, Michigan, in an enclave of Motown populated almost exclusively with refugees from Alabama. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended Harvard University, from which she graduated in 1981 with an honors degree in English and American literature. In 1983 she moved to Nashville to become a country songwriter. In 2001 her first novel, The Wind Done Gone, became a New York Times bestseller and the subject of a first-amendment legal battle. Alice received the Free Spirit Award in 2001 and the Literature Award of Excellence from the Memphis Black Writers Conference in 2002. She was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award in 2002.

Questions for Discussion

We hope the following questions will spark discussion for reading groups and help to provide a deeper understanding of Pushkin and the Queen of Spades for every reader.

1. Windsor Armstrong is a somewhat unusual heroine; she can be considered either a hero or an antihero. She has an ambivalent relationship to black culture, a broken relation with her son, and a good deal of anxiety about Tanya, her future daughter-in-law; still, she remains fundamentally sympathetic. Why? Windsor can be too intellectual and too rigid — how do these qualities contribute to her conflicts with her son? She is also very loving: from whom has she learned love? What stereotypes do Windsor's very existence explode?

2. A central theme of Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is the nature of motherhood. What, according to Windsor, are the characteristics of "the good mother"? Is Windsor herself a "good mother"? What is Windsor's greatest flaw as a mother? Her greatest challenge? Her greatest achievement?

3. A different reading of the book might suggest that Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is not about mothers at all but about fathers. Consider Spady, Leo, Sun, Dear's father, and Sun's father. How does each of these men influence Windsor? Is there a significant sense in which Windsor is a father to Pushkin?

4. Another theme of Pushkin and the Queen of Spades is the relationship between high and low culture. Throughout the novel, Randall integrates low-culture icons (the numbers runner, the football player, the soul singer) into the high-culture tradition of the black intelligentsia (the world of W.E.B. Dubois and Condoleezza Rice)? How are we to understand Windsor as a person in whom cultures collide?

5. What do the two Pushkins of the novel, Pushkin the poet and Pushkin the football player, have in common? How does Pushkin the football player feel about Pushkin the poet?

6. Windsor has a great interest in food, from the basic sensual pleasure of eating to the cultural significance of her meals. What do we learn about Windsor through her attitudes toward food? What is suggested when Windsor notes that she ate granola and yogurt in Cambridge while Pushkin ate sardines and crackers in Detroit?

7. Pushkin and the Queen of Spades considers psychosexual aspects of race in modern America. Why, according to Windsor, do black women hate interracial relationships? Is Windsor right? What is the impact of racism on perceptions of beauty? Why are Pushkin and Tanya attracted to each other? How is Tanya similar to Windsor?

8. Ultimately, Windsor is a character more largely concerned with the present and the future than with the past. In what sense is her wedding present to Pushkin a commitment to the future and a radical break with the past? How is this related to her refusal to be a victim?

9. In one sense this is a novel in which heart triumphs over head and love triumphs over politics. In another sense this is a novel in which political realities — questions of caste, class, race, and power — express themselves in the most intimate circumstances. Which understanding of the novel lives larger in your mind, and why?

10. What assumptions, beliefs, and experiences do you bring to your reading of Pushkin and the Queen of Spades? For instance, have you ever dated someone of a race different from your own? Have you ever imagined yourself to belong to a different race? Have you ever altered your appearance to get a job? Would you disapprove of your mother, sister, brother, or father marrying someone of a different race? How do your own experiences affect your perception of the novel?

Additional discussion questions may be found at the author's Web site: www.AliceRandall.com.

For Further Reading

The following books may be of interest to readers of Pushkin and the Queen of Spades.

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall

Imani All Mine by Connie Porter

The Street by Ann Petry

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