Book Article

Alice Randall gets serious this time

The author of ''Pushkin and the Queen of Spades'' talks about the controversy caused by her ''Gone With the Wind'' parody and how she's dealt with it all

The Wind Done Gone, Alice Randall's 2001 parody of Gone With the Wind, was many things -- a lightning rod for controversy, a cause celebre for First Amendment rights, a surprise best-seller -- but it wasn't exactly beach reading. ''It was very important to me that The Wind Done Gone not be an entertainment,'' Randall says. ''It was purposefully convoluted so that it would not be entertaining.''

The same cannot be said of her follow-up, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades (Houghton Mifflin, $24). Though she gets animatedly academic talking about the ''archetypes and stereotypes'' she explores in her second novel, Randall says she's ''learned some lessons about being a little bit more accessible.'' It shows. In the tale of a black professor of Russian literature whose son has thwarted her ''maternal ambition'' by becoming a pro football player, even the 44-year-old author's most esoteric intellectual adventures don't affect the swing of her story or the strength of her voice.

A Harvard graduate, Nashville hostess, and former songwriter (she co-penned a country hit for Trisha Yearwood), Randall vaulted onto the front pages when The Wind Done Gone -- which retells Margaret Mitchell's epic through the eyes of a female slave -- elicited a lawsuit from the Mitchell Trusts. The estate contended that the parody was an unauthorized sequel, and the judicial system briefly agreed. Nice as it was to receive the support of such authors as Toni Morrison and Pat Conroy, Randall was thoroughly disturbed by the controversy. ''I put on a huge amount of weight,'' she says. ''I've lost 50 pounds since then.'' And gained some literary cred: ''People are beginning to give papers on it at conferences, which is exciting, particularly because the book came out to very mixed reviews.''

Early reviews of Pushkin, on the other hand, suggest Randall may have a future as a crowd-pleaser. ''A celebration of reading,'' she calls it. Like her last book, Pushkin has its roots in Randall's childhood reading list: ''When I was about 13, someone told me the man who invented the modern Russian language was black, so I discovered Pushkin. The idea that the Russian Shakespeare was a descendant of a slave caught my imagination.... Once I finished writing about Gone With the Wind -- writing about a text that had injured me -- I was really interested in writing about a text that had nourished me.''

When Randall finishes her 15-city book tour, she'll get back to writing her next metafiction, this one involving a ''race-neutral text'' she'd prefer to keep under wraps: ''Can you just say that it's generally Shakespearean?''

Originally posted Apr 30, 2004 Published in issue #762-763 Apr 30, 2004 Order article reprints