I recently interviewed Randi Pink, author of Into White; Girls Like Us and most recently, Angel of Greenwood, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. From her website, Randi is “A native and resident of Birmingham, AL, Randi Pink leverages her unique experience with her southern roots when she writes. Randi is a mother, a wife, a writer, an advocate, a fighter, a friend, and so much more. Through a platform of encouragement, advice, and love, Randi loves connecting with the community around her and her loyal community of readers.”
Here’s an opportunity to get to know a little more about her through her writing.
EC: I hope you and your family have been well during the pandemic! It’s a bit hard to believe we’re starting to open up and move forward but, here we are. Have you been able to look back and glean anything from the past year?
RP: It’s funny you’d use the word glean in this question, because, for a year now, my mantra has been to glean the unwanted edges. Take in my hands the tiny victories and make desirable things with them, in spite of. That’s been my pandemic – hands, brain, fingers, ink pen, words, stories, and eventually, Angel of Greenwood, then We Are the Scribes, and essays on essays written. I tried so very hard to glean something from the pain of 2020.
Some days, I’d force in myself the will to set one foot in front of the other, or more specifically, write one word and then another and another until I felt they made something worth gleaning. Other days, like today honestly, I’d crack underneath the weight of it all. As I write this, Edith, I cannot see my screen through the tears.
EC: I find that books I really enjoy are ones that manage to develop place as well as they develop character. From your research, what was the character of Greenwood like?
RP: Greenwood Glorious Greenwood.
The Tulsa Race Massacre is a devastating event in American history. But the fact that Greenwood was built on the heels of Reconstruction, and likely by formerly enslaved people and direct descendants of formerly enslaved people, is triumphant.
The creation of Greenwood is a miracle of strength and resilience. It’s so much more than the massacre, and while the massacre must be taught, we should also know the names of those who built a marvel such as Greenwood in the first place, not just the names of those who tried to destroy it.
To answer your question more succinctly, Greenwood the character is more powerful than hate. More resilient than any who’d dare come against it; an outright refusal to forever fall. Greenwood is a shining example that the human spirit is regenerative and impossible to kill.
EC: Why and how did you choose this narrative voice? Did you know from the beginning you didn’t want to do first person or was it a process?
RP: Honestly, the process of writing Angel of Greenwood was different than my other novels. Mid-pandemic, post-partum, and soon-to-be-divorced, I mostly wrote to keep from screaming out. If I had a process, it would be too chaotic to explain. I do have a small story that comes to mind. It will seem completely unrelated, but hang on until the end:
Yesterday, I saw a dinner plate sized turtle attempting to cross a busy parkway near my mother’s home. I swerved not to hit her (my daughter says it was a girl!) and for sweet humanity’s sake, every other car behind me swerved, too. I pulled over and ran into traffic to get the turtle out of the street. But where to put her? After much deliberation, my four-year-old daughter and I decided to drive her thirty-minutes across town to the Botanical Gardens where turtles seemed to live happy, healthy lives. We placed her by the pond and she leaped in like that was exactly where she was supposed to be.
That was writing Angel of Greenwood in 2020. Someone or something somewhere picked me up and carried me through the hell and danger of oncoming traffic, and now, I stand at the edge of the water, tired and ready to jump in.
EC: Religion and faith always such a critical part of your work and I cannot image this particular story without those elements. I’m looking at those names, Angel and Isaiah and I don’t think you chose them without reason. What significance are they bringing here?
RP: Such a wonderful question. The name Angel was chosen because Black girls and women are expected to be just that — angels. Angel, as a character, encompasses that. She is everyone’s everything. Caring, encouraging, intuitively helpful and without complaint. But in my mind, she is always angry, frustrated, and itching to punch something. She’s hiding herself though, behind the longing to not be called angry. As so many of us, Black women and girls, are.
As for Isaiah. One of the most beautiful moments in Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech is where he quotes Isaiah 40:4-
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” source
The verse makes me think of Greenwood every time I read it. I named Isaiah to honor the beauty of this verse quoted so perfectly on August of 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
EC: What do you enjoy about writing historical fiction?
RP: I want to make history tangible. History is not a thick textbook with quiz keys in the back. No. History is people. History is living, breathing, human beings enduring so that we may live, breathe and be. The unmatched power of historical fiction is sometimes overwhelming. I pray daily that I am worthy of writing it.
EC: You bring the works of DuBois and Washington to life for your readers. What other writers would you recommend to inform young activists?
RP: Harriet Jacobs! In her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, we have a narrative account of a formerly enslaved Black girl, written in the 1800s, and many Americans do not know her name!
She speaks of being born enslaved as a Black girl. She speaks of innocence lost and never allowed. She speaks of crouching herself in a tiny crawl space for years to escape her filthy captor.
The bravery. The power. The resiliency to write and release such a narrative while technically a fugitive enslaved person deserves the respect of being on every high school’s list of required readings. This is why I’m centering my next novel around her.
EC: I see that we’re coming up on the 100 year anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre (31 May 1921). Do you have any plans to observe the day?
RP: I plan to sit in a quiet place for as long as I’m allowed quiet. It’s my way of expressing inexpressible things – quiet.
EC: Thank you, Randi for such a lovely interview!
If you haven’t read Angel of Greenwood, order your copy here: https://bookshop.org/a/25263/9781250768476
Or, request a copy from your local library!
Be well and do good!