"I'll be glad when I'm not still the only one."
March 11, 2009 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Alice Randall is best known, perhaps, for her novel The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Gone With the Wind that tackles the earlier book's treatment of race. But Randall, a Vanderbilt professor and Harvard graduate, isn't just a novelist: she's a country music songwriter, the first black woman to have a No. 1 song on the country music charts.

Randall's work, whether it's her novels or her music, often explores the African-American experience in unexpected ways,* and is filled with copious literary allusions. Her second novel, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, about an African-American professor of Russian literature whose son, Pushkin, disappoints her by becoming, of all things, a football player, echoes The Godfather with its opening line, "LOOK WHAT THEY DONE TO MY BOY!" and her song "Many Mansions" is probably the only country music song to open with a line from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Another song is called "A Hundred Years of Solitude" after the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Randall is a rarity in the world of country music, which has been called the de facto "soundtrack of white flight," both for who she is and for the subjects of her songs. She's written a song about a man who got lynched between his wedding and his reception ("The Ballad of Sally Anne"), and songs ("I'll Cry for Yours, Will You Cry for Mine?" and "Went for a Ride," respectively) about slave and Confederate dead in the Civil War and about black cowboys in the Old West (referenced in this bio). Beyond just writing songs, Randall teaches about the artform: she has a course called "Country Music Lyrics in American Culture" and co-wrote a book of playlists to guide listeners through the genre.

*I'd just like to point out that this is my favorite link in the whole post, a meaty interview at identity theory.
posted by ocherdraco (9 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Neat post, thanks. That interview is fascinating:

AR: ...People underestimate the importance of Gone with the Wind and the damage it does. To give a specific example, in Japan, where Gone with the Wind is immensely popular, when there were black service men on trial for rape of a Japanese woman in Japan, shortly after this litigation began, what was most likely to influence the perceptions of the Japanese public about those men was what they had read in Gone with the Wind. There is no single English book as popular that touches on the subject of the Negro "character." And to show the level of interest, news crews from Japan followed me to Atlanta, contacted me in Nashville. It was a big story in Japan. I met a Miss China who was in law school in America. Her first introduction to America was reading Gone with the Wind in translation.
posted by mediareport at 2:45 PM on March 11, 2009

This is awesome. She lives a few streets down from me and couldn't be a nicer person. Here's an interview she did over where I work a few years ago whennher book was released.
posted by Strshan at 3:00 PM on March 11, 2009

Ms. Randall is also a produced screenwriter (a movie of the week for CBS).

Some people are disgustingly talented.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:13 PM on March 11, 2009

thanks for the post and links
posted by edgeways at 3:25 PM on March 11, 2009

the link to the country song has got to be a typo. seriously?
posted by klanawa at 4:17 PM on March 11, 2009

klanawa, what more do you need? allmusic? Wikipedia?
posted by dhartung at 6:00 PM on March 11, 2009

What a fascinating person. Thanks for the links!
posted by emjaybee at 7:38 PM on March 11, 2009

dhartung, if I had known allmusic had so many streams of her songs, this post would have been rather different. thanks!
posted by ocherdraco at 8:30 PM on March 11, 2009

sorry, i was reacting to the #1 song link. it's just... well, it's not very good.

not a helpful comment, i know.
posted by klanawa at 9:52 PM on March 20, 2009

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