Margaret Randall (New York, 1936) is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, photographer and social activist. She lived in Latin America for 23 years (in Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua). From 1962 to 1969 she and Mexican poet Sergio Mondragón co-edited El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn, a bilingual literary quarterly that published some of the best new literature and art of the sixties. She is the author of more than 150 books. She lives in Albuquerque with her partner (now wife) of more than 35 years, the visual artist Barbara Byers, and travels extensively to read, lecture and teach. To learn more about the work of Margaret Randall visit: www.margaretrandall.org.
Margaret Randall will be in conversation with Garrett Caples at City Lights on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. PST to celebrate the release of her new books Lupe’s Dream and other stories (published by Wings Press) and Vertigo of Risk: poems (published by Casa Urraca Press).
1. Where are you writing to us from?
I’m in my studio, blinds drawn, and door closed so it feels like a womb. I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico, surrounded by the high desert landscape that has long nurtured my work; within easy driving distance of Chaco Canyon, Abiquiu and the Georgia O’Keeffe country to the north, Acoma to the west, Sandia Crest to the east, and the funky little town of Truth or Consequences to the south, where a few nights ago my wife and I celebrated my first 86 years with a relaxing soak in the thermal waters pumped right into our room at our favorite renovated 1930s motor lodge. This land—stolen by Spain from its native peoples and then from Mexico by a voracious United States, scarred by border turmoil and alive with the resistance of indigenous tribes, Hispanic and Genizaro settlers, Buffalo soldiers, and European intruders, holds the energy I need to write.
2. What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?
Despite the mess we humans have made of out habitat and future, a great deal brings me joy these days. My relationship with Barbara, 36 years now and growing. The birth of my third great grandchild, a bright little girl named Julia who is two months old today. The experience of having lived long enough to bear witness to the worst of humanity’s crimes and still believe we are capable of creating a better life for everyone. Powerful art that emerges in every genre, and the fact that, against a dangerous neo-fascist thrust, marginalized peoples—women, LGBTQ+ people, and those of all colors and genders—are achieving hard-won spaces in which to live, speak, and act.
3. Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?
I am grateful for the influence of poets such as Susan Sherman, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, César Vallejo, Juan Gelman, and Anne Waldman, among many others. Vertigo of Risk, like most of my poetry collections, is rooted in cellular memory, my own revision of history, and risk as a necessary component to survival. Lupe’s Dream is my only book of short stories; I started writing those stories almost feverishly during the pandemic and stopped just as suddenly when I printed out the last. I have no idea where these stories come from, perhaps some other world I inhabit simultaneously with this one.
4. What books are you reading right now, and would you recommend any to others?
For maybe the twentieth time, I am rereading Michael Coe’s Breaking the Mayan Code. It’s detailed description of the interdisciplinary approach to understanding the written glyphs of ancient culture teaches me something new every time. I’ve also just finished Minnie Bruce Pratt’s beautiful new poetry collection, Magnified, and Reflections through the Convex Mirror of Time / Reflexiones tras el Espejo convexo del tiempo by E. A. Mares. This latter book is especially moving to those who read Spanish as well as English, as the edition is bilingual and the author wrote some of the poems in one language, some in the other.
5. If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?
It would be here in Albuquerque, a city like so many that in recent years has suffered the loss of many fine independent bookstores. Salt of the Earth Books, The Living Batch, Full Circle, Tresspasser’s William, Sisters and Brothers, and several others once catered to the needs of our city’s readers, and hosted important events with writers, those emerging as well as well-known. First the chains and then Amazon forced those stores out of business. Now we must travel 60 miles north to Santa Fe to enjoy a reading or public conversation at Collected Works, where the indominable Dorothy Massey is the area’s remaining great bookseller. Collected Works has been around for 40 years, responding to the community’s need for a place to browse recent titles, enjoy a latte, and listen to and converse with the best contemporary writers. I recently engaged in public conversation with Sandra Cisneros there: an unforgettable evening centered on her new book, Woman without Shame. If I were fifty years younger and wanted to give Albuquerque such a place, I would open a bookstore in the spirit of Collected Works. Or in the spirit of City Lights in San Francisco, Elliot Bay in Seattle, Charis in Atlanta, and others that have weathered the storm and survived. I’d choose a name reflective of the moment, its challenges and imagination. As for my bestseller, I hope it would be the most courageous and powerfully written book of the moment, a title not even considered for sale at the commercial outlets.