Academic journal article Chicago Review

An Interview with Margaret Randall

Academic journal article Chicago Review

An Interview with Margaret Randall

Article excerpt

SA: Your website bio mentions that you lived "among New York's abstract expressionists in the 1950s and early 60s." What took you to Mexico in the 60s? How was the artistic scene there different from the one in New York?

MR: What prompted my move from New York City to Mexico City in the summer of 1961 was largely personal. New York had been exciting and very productive for me. When I arrived I had that feeling many young creative people must have had at the time, that it was the only place to be. But after several years, it became harder (economically) and I also began to understand that I could live and write anywhere. In the fall of 1960 I gave birth to my son. His father and I weren't married, not even really in a relationship (although he was attentive to Gregory's life, and they became close many years later). Being a single mother, in New York in the 1960s, wasn't easy. There were few daycare centers, few services of any sort. I worked all day, long hours in order to support the two of us, and rarely was able to spend time with my son. I had the notion that this might be different in Mexico, that I would be able to earn a living and spend more time with him. So, impulsively perhaps, when he was ten months old we boarded a Greyhound bus and headed south.

This is what took me to Mexico. How the artistic scenes differed is more complicated. There was a wonderful scene in New York, and I found a wonderful one in Mexico as well. On both scenes writers, visual artists, theater people, singers, dancers, and others interacted. Perhaps the biggest difference was that in the United States the chill of McCarthyism was still very present; writers especially were made to feel that we could only write about certain things, that only some subjects were safe. Certainly political or socially conscious writing was discouraged. While in Mexico any topic was legitimate; writers wrote about what moved them most, and that was very often the situations of injustice that plagued the world. Perhaps one reason there was such a mix of intellectuals and artists in Mexico is because that country has had a long tradition of giving political refuge to people fleeing political persecution. When I arrived in the early 60s, many of the great poets and artists who had fled the Spanish Civil War or Nazi-occupied Europe were still alive and active. While I lived there, they were joined by many who fled the brutal Latin American dictatorships.

In your article for The Little Magazine in America you talk about the title El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn as coming from "the simple urge to speak, to be heard, to be felt." (1) Whose idea was the title?

Although I am no longer absolutely certain, I believe the idea for the journal's title was Harvey Wolin's. He was only with us for the first issue. I know we talked about creating a title that would reflect the best of the creative contributions made north and south of the border. In the US, we felt that jazz was a major contribution, thus the jazz horn, or corno. In the south, cultural history was still very much influenced by the pre-Columbian gods and myths, thus the plumes of Quetzalcoatl. At the time, many artistic groups took names that paired unlikely terms in interesting ways; I remember the Cross-Eyed Cat, the Crazy Coyote, the Roof of the Whale, and so forth. So El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn seemed like a good name, representing as it did major elements from across the Americas.

In the same article, you write, "We understood the alienation between two continents, but neither its colonialist nor its imperialist nature. We removed cultural expression from politics, falling easily into the enemy's trap of compartmentalization." The article was published in 1975; do you still feel the same way? Will you expand on how the first issues of the magazine "removed cultural expression from politics?" (I suspect this changed over the course of the magazine's existence.)

When I spoke about understanding the alienation between the two continents, I was referring to popular culture: the long-held feelings of superiority in the North and inferiority in the South, the jealousies, the fact that Latin Americans hated their northern neighbors but still frequently wanted to look like them, be like them, or immigrate to live among them. …

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