A lifetime of expression

At 73, Margaret Randall is nowhere near slowing down.

Still writing books and giving international lectures, the American-born feminist poet, writer, photographer and social activist explains that she never could have imagined doing anything else with her time.

“I’ve been a writer all my life,” said Randall. “I just had jobs to make a living.”

Though her main genre is poetry – something she hated studying in public school – Randall expresses herself with several different mediums, through which she explores her own personal past and life experiences, as well as exploring women’s history.

In a career that has seen her publish over 100 books, Randall noted that she recently questioned if she should continue down her current path.

“About three years ago, I said I’m not going to write any more books. I just didn’t feel like it,” said Randall. “I felt like 100 [books] is enough and what else could I say and who cares really?”

But with the encouragement of her partner, who is still working, Randall has persevered and continued writing throughout her retirement, taking on some of her biggest challenges.

“It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written,” said Randall of her February 2009 release To Change the World: My Years in Cuba, which she read excerpts from while visiting the University of Waterloo last Wednesday and Thursday.

“I’ve always wanted to write this book,” she said, explaining that through short stories she has sought to convey both a sense of excitement of energy, as well as analyze the problems of the Cuban revolution.

Explaining that it was a great challenge – as her “memory really isn’t as good as it was” – Randall was able to compile the stories based on the detailed journals she kept from 1969-80, as well as collaborating with her children, who are now in their 40s and 50s.

“It’s a documentation of much more of my life,” said Randall. “It’s the way my generation and I lived.”

And lived she has, spending her adult life in different areas of the world, including Latin America, Mexico and Nicaragua.

“As a young woman … I was pretty adventurous,” said Randall. “I quit college and sort of went out to see the world.”

Always identifying herself as a feminist, Randall explains that she really found feminism in 1969 while living in Mexico at the same time the second wave of the women’s movement was exploding in the United States.

Randall’s discovery of feminism allowed her to see what she had always thought to be personal problems as social ones.

“I was just your typical young woman who had had a variety of relationships that had gone bad. And I always thought it was my fault, that’s how I grew up,” said Randall.

“Feminism was extremely important to me at that point in life because it changed my whole concept of self.”

Speaking to today’s state of feminism, Randall explained that it is up to today’s youth to decide the direction that feminism should take.

“They have their own ideas that are relevant to their lives, just as ours were relevant to ours,” said Randall, though she also feels that each generation shouldn’t try to “reinvent the wheel.”

“My hope is … we did something, my generation, and your generation is doing something else.”

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