An intro to our notable author this month could start like a vintage line in a joke.
“A hit songwriter, a Harvard grad and a celebrated author walk into a bar…”
“…and she sits down at the table with her friends!”
Alice Randall, one of Nashville’s most admired authors, is all that rolled into one. Randall first began her career as an author with her novel “Wind Done Gone,” a parody of the classic novel “Gone With The Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. Telling the story of Tara and the antebellum South from the African-American perspective, this novel established Randall’s reputation for concise, pointed and honest portrayals in her works.
Following the publication of “Wind Done Gone” in 2001, Randall has continued her literary efforts with four additional books. The most recent is a cookbook, co-authored with her daughter, fellow author, poet and professor Caroline Randall Williams. “Soul Food Love,” published in 2015, is part homage to food, part honest and poignant generational family history. Randall tells the stories of the women in her family tree with an honesty that alternately brings out emotions that range from a cringe, a chuckle and ultimately, to a wistful feeling that you would like to sit at her table, letting the smells and sights and stories envelop you.
Randall is quite the Renaissance woman. Raised in Washington, D.C., Randall was educated at Harvard University. She moved to Nashville soon after graduating with the dream to succeed in the world of country music. Succeed she did, penning multiple hit songs, most famously for the song “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” Written by Randall and noted songwriter Matraca Berg, it was Randall’s first No. 1 hit song, made famous in 1994 by Trisha Yearwood. (Can you hear the song in your heads, everyone? Come on, I know you can. Sing it with me! “She used to tie her hair up with ribbons and bo—ows!” )
Randall’s love for Nashville’s artistic community does not end with music and the written word, however. Randall’s deep roots in the world of food are as varied and unexpected as Randall herself. The story goes that Randall taught herself the art of making crepes as a child, among other impressively complex recipes as scones and chocolate mousse. The New York Times, as they described Randall’s early experiences with cooking and recipes, also described Randall’s later impressively bold success at convincing the venerable Julia Child to teach Randall at the college level while a student at Harvard, after Randall proposed the plan to earn college credit while learning the art of high tea from Ms. Child.
All of Randall’s novels provide a glimpse into the sometimes painful, always honest portrayal of the South, with all its difficult past and challenges. Capturing the beauty, Randall does not shy away from painting the ugly alongside the beauty. As with all of her novels, Randall does an exceptional job of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and this is present in her cookbook “Soul Food Love,” her most recent work published in 2015.
The cookbook reads as a biographical tale of the women in Randall’s family and their histories and stories of racial strife, community bonds and the love and anchor that food can provide. Recipes are interspersed with family stories, and after being touched by the tales each page brings to life, the reader’s next desire is to find a way to bring that fabulous recipe to life.
Randall and her husband, well-respected Nashville attorney David Ewing, are remarkable supporters of Nashville’s educational and artistic communities. Randall and Ewing even have gone so far as to move into a Vanderbilt dorm apartment and serve as de facto den parents to Vandy undergrads, providing rare insight into Nashville’s community spirit to the future generation of leaders and educators.
Randall is a perfect example of living life purposefully. Her written works are proof of that, but Randall’s own biographical tale tells the same story. One of downright chutzpah, honed intellect, keen insight, unflinching honesty and a warm spirit. We are proud that Nashville can call her our own. We all want to be her neighbor, and in a fashion, we all are.