MARGARET RANDALL IS A feminist poet and writer, a professor and oral historian, and a social justice activist in the United States and abroad for the past half century. In 2004, she received the PEN New Mexico Dorothy Doyle Lifetime Achievement Award for writing and human rights activism, and in 1990, she won a Hellman /Hammett grant for writers who have been victimized by political repression. The experiences that earned her such recognition are the subject of the 2001 documentary The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall. While living in Mexico in the turbulent 1960s, she co-founded and co-edited El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn, a bilingual literary journal which for eight years published some of the most dynamic and meaningful writing of the era. In the 1970s, Randall lived in Cuba, working on a variety of projects with the island's revolutionary government. Then, in the 1980s, she moved to Nicaragua where she had the opportunity to witness and participate in another experiment in social change. When she returned to the U.S. in 1984, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered that she be deported because of opinions expressed in some of her books. She fought that order and won her case in 1989. From 1985 to 1994 she taught at a number of U.S. universities. Currently she lives, writes, and remains active in myriad social causes in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In 2010, while conducting research for a historical novel set in 1970s Cuba, I picked up Randall's book To Change the World: My Years in Cuba (Rutgers University Press, 2010) and was struck by her wisdom and insight into the complex (and often contradictory) realm of social change — and the connection between personal and social change. I wrote Randall upon finishing her book, and she responded the next day from Uruguay, where she was visiting her son on his 50th birthday.
Randall and I met in person last year at a reading she gave at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. There, Randall shared poems (about U.S.-Mexico border issues, about the Chilean miners' catastrophe, about genetically modified crops) and entertained the audience, an intergenerational mix of activists and writers and longtime admirers.
Our interview was conducted soon thereafter, over the course of several lengthy phone conversations.
I began my activism in New York City just before moving to Mexico. I remember my first demonstration, in January of 1961, was outside the Portuguese Consulate, to support a group of Portuguese sailors who were trying to gain asylum in Goulart's Brazil. At the time, there was a dictator in Portugal, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. I don't know why I chose to be involved. I've often wondered why, coming from a middle-class family that was not particularly political, I've always had this awareness of injustice. Maybe it was a result of the incest perpetrated by my maternal grandfather. If a child very early on experiences abuse, maybe it makes that child more attuned to injustice as she grows up. And I think I was also influenced by my father, who spoke often of social justice and who was a very just man.
But in Mexico, years before the student movemen...read more