The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday December 3rd


Q&A with feminist novelist Margaret Randall

Margaret Randall is a novelist, poet, photographer, and social activist born and raised in New York City. Her works have been known to challenge societal norms and express feminist ideas, and even resulted in a deportation order by the United States in 1984, against which she fought and won. Randall was in Chapel Hill this week for a talk and reading Wednesday in Dey Hall and a reading Thursday at Internationalist Books on Franklin Street.

In an email interview with staff writer Rupali Srivastava, she spoke about gender equality, almost getting deported, and the importance of art activism.

Daily Tar Heel: You've written an incredible amount of books. What motivates you to keep writing?

Margaret Randall: I keep writing because it is what I do, what I know how to do, what I feel I do best. It's where I can offer something that is mine. Each of us does many things throughout our lives, of course, and I have as well: I have been a mother, a grandmother, worked at all sorts of odd jobs, been a journalist, even a waitress when I was young. But writing, as I say, is where I feel most at home.

DTH: After living in countries all around the world, and even being ordered deported from the U.S., why did you decide to return to and stay in the states?

MR: I was born here. It is my country. Culturally, linguistically, it is my home. I decided to fight the deportation order because I felt I had a right to remain in the country of my birth and because I also believe we have a right to our opinions, however much those opinions may diverge from the mainstream.

DTH: What draws you to the particular work you do, and what are the rewards of doing that work — whether that is photography, writing, or activism?

MR: Writing and photography give me great rewards, those of being able to express my ideas in genres that are interesting to me. My activism comes from my feeling that our society needs change, a change that favors the needs of all peoples, not just the group in power.

DTH: How have your work and style changed since you began as a writer? How have your views changed as you've grown as an artist?

MR: My work has changed over the years because I have grown and changed. As we mature, I think we are able to do our work better. We learn what works and what doesn't work. We feel more at home in the work and it shows. I continue to believe most of what I believed as a young person, but I think I am able to showcase it more effectively at this stage in my life.

DTH: Why do you think feminist art — writing, photography, or other forms — is important even in relatively progressive countries like the U.S.?

MR: The United States is a relatively progressive country when it comes to gender, if we compare it with countries where women must cover their bodies or are not allowed to drive a car. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that there is gender equality here. Women still earn about three fourths of what men earn for doing the same work. Far fewer women are represented in positions of power or influence, whether it be in government, academia, the military, or the arts. Just look at a university literature class: many more male writers are taught than women. So there is still plenty of work to be done in the realm of gender equality. Feminist art does a lot to raise feminist consciousness.

DTH: Lastly, what advice would you give a student who wants to make a career out of activism and/or art?

MR: My advice to young people who want to make a career out of artistic expression and/or activism, is that they go into it with their eyes wide open. Ask lots of questions. Read a lot. Look. Listen. Experience. Get together with other young people with like ideas. Discuss. Share. Art and activism are lifelong endeavors.

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