Author/parodist Alice Randall hosts a showdown in Margaret Mitchell's backyard

By Troy Patterson
Updated July 27, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Alice Randall
Credit: Alice Randall: Christopher Berkey/AP Wide World

It was nice talking with you at the Alice Randall event at the Margaret Mitchell House. I hope you enjoyed it and will have a chance to come to some of our other literary events next time you are in Atlanta. However, most are not that lively! Thanks so much and have a great weekend!

Most ”literary events” are face-scratching bores, so it was, in fact, a great pleasure. However, what Ashley calls ”lively” I would refer to as ”grotesquely weird,” and it’s hard to imagine how it might have been otherwise: In the four months since the Mitchell estate first contended that ”The Wind Done Gone” is ”a blatant and wholesale theft of ‘Gone With the Wind,”’ Alice Randall has become the most famous first-time novelist in the world. Her status as a First Amendment cause célèbre — with novelists, scholars, and media corporations supporting her right to parody ”GWTW” — has proven instantly convertible to actual celebrity. Before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a lower court’s preliminary injunction against its publication, advance copies of ”The Wind Done Gone” were garnering $400 bids on eBay. Officially released on June 28, it’s a best-seller — No. 11 this week on The New York Times’ list.

Now factor in the content of the novel, which reads like a dense and pointed literary analysis spun into a yarn. The book purports to be the recovered diary of Scarlett O’Hara’s half-black half sister Cynara — though in Randall’s book Scarlett is called Other. When Randall says, ”My book explodes Ms. Mitchell’s book” — and she says it often, in a voice that variously drawls down-home and clips aristocratically — she’s talking about using theory as a detonating device to blast ”GWTW”’s ideology. The director Reginald Hudlin, a friend of Randall’s since they attended Harvard 20 years ago, sums up her mind-set thus: ”She had written this incredibly complex senior thesis, a sort of feminist, deconstructionist look at Jane Austen. She got a cum laude, but basically only five people in the world could understand it, so she decided she would never do anything that inaccessible again. She thought that she should talk to the masses — to the people who really need to be spoken to.”

Until ”The Wind Done Gone,” Randall’s main venue had been writing country songs. She fell in love with the genre at Harvard, where she went for an English degree after a liberal-intellectual girlhood in Washington, D.C. ”It was sophomore year, I think,” she said, three days before her visit to Atlanta. She was sitting in the sick-pastel greenroom of a New York City public radio station and wearing what seems to be her book-tour uniform: simple black top, long black skirt, platform slides, strand of pearls. ”I took a screenwriting class, and I was spending a couple days typing a 110-page script, and I got so bored with whatever pop-rock radio station I was listening to that I decided to turn on the country station. It was a joke, something to distract me. And I was immediately struck that there was this Metaphysical” — she is referencing 17th-century poets now — ”quality to some of the strategy in country lyrics.”

A year and a half after graduating, Randall up and moved to Nashville. On her second night in town, she saw singer-songwriter Steve Earle perform and summoned the temerity to call him. They’ve been close friends ever since. He says: ”She decided she wasn’t gonna quit writing until she got a No. 1 record, and she got one” — cowriting Trisha Yearwood’s ”Xxx’s and Ooo’s (An American Girl)” — ”and when she did, she quit.” When she’s not writing, she’s a ”mommy/wife,” raising her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline, volunteering at schools, hosting tables at balls, throwing Democratic fund-raisers — a high-voltage soccer mom at age 42. Novelist Jay McInerney became her friend when he lived in Nashville. ”She knows everybody,” he says. ”I don’t know where she finds the hours for all her enterprises and friendships and good deeds.”

Gone With the Wind

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