Margaret Randall, 2020 George Garrett Award Recipient

Margaret Randall

At the AWP awards evening, “Old Friends and New Beginnings,” March 4, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas, at #AWP20, we were delighted to present the 2020 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature to Margaret Randall: New Mexico-based poet, feminist, photographer, oral historian, and social activist. Randall was nominated for the award by Dr. Connie Voisine, poet and professor at New Mexico State University.

Named after the late George Garrett, a former poet laureate of Virginia and one of AWP’s founding board members, the prize honors those who perform outstanding community service to the literary community. Along with his distinguished body of work as a poet and novelist, George Garrett is remembered and beloved for his steadfast mentorship of and advocacy for other writers. The prize comes with a $2,000 honorarium from AWP, together with our heartfelt admiration for the inspiration awardees offer to the literary community.

The 2020 winner, Margaret Randall, is the author of over 150 volumes of poetry and prose. Some of her notable books include To Change the World, My Years in Cuba (2009), Sandino’s Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle (1981), Gathering Rage: The Failure of 20th Century Revolutions to Develop a Feminist Agenda (1992), and the poetry collections Ruins (2011), The Rhizome as a Field of Broken Bones (2013), and The Morning After: Poetry and Prose in a Post-Truth World (2017).

Randall has been a figure in writing and social justice circles since the 1960s, when she took part in the Mexican student movement of 1968. She founded and co-edited the iconic bilingual literary journal El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn. Due to her involvement in the student protests, she was then forced to flee Mexico—moving to Cuba after a brief sojourn in Prague. Randall credits her time in Cuba, where she spent 11 years, with teaching her about the problems and benefits of revolutionary society and giving her the idea that “another world is possible.” A tireless advocate for women’s power and voices and a staunch environmentalist, Randall is a poet who asks hard questions about what we can do to build a better world.

Describing her lifelong commitment to social justice, Randall says in a recent interview: “Justice can only be measured by inclusiveness, never by being exclusive,” adding, “I think the most any of us can do, right now, is engage in acts of kindness, see the people around us, and make them feel they are seen. The powers dragging our planet down count on us all feeling like meaningless pawns—powerless and resigned. Each of us has an obligation to not be that to the fullest of our abilities: a kind word, a helping hand, a breath of clean air, a poem, a delicious meal, a sliver of protection, a bit of quiet, some. knowledge, some peace.”

At the ceremony, which Randall was unable to attend, Randall sent a recording of herself. We encourage you to listen to this recording of her speech and reading. of "Made Rich by Art and Revolution." The transcript is provided below.

Randall’s Remarks & Reading

Good evening. I really wish I could be with all of you tonight. It’s a great honor for me to be receiving AWP’s George Garrett Award. Unfortunately, I am in another city, but my heart is with you. And I’m going to read a poem just to be able to contribute something to this evening. The poem that I am going to read is called “Made Rich by Art and Revolution.” It’s the kind of poem that comes with age, probably only could be written when one has gotten older, and it’s certainly reflective of my stage in life at this moment.

Made Rich by Art and Revolution
by Margaret Randall

When I am gone and August comes
to my desert,
rain will soak sand,
its rich scent rising
to enter the lungs of another mother or walker,
someone whose intention and desire
I cannot know.

When I am gone this painting of little islands
miniature trees and birds
floating in a magical sea of blue
will hang in someone else’s house.
Will that person tell the story
of poor Nicaraguan peasants
made rich by art and revolution?

A granddaughter may inherit
my turquoise earrings.
The clay pans I’ve used for years,
their pungency filling the house,
will offer up a new generation
of bread.
Someone not yet born may read this poem.

But who will ask the questions
born of the answers
I juggle today.
Who will know the heat
of this great love,
or catch fragments of my memory
reassembling just before dawn.

The award was accepted by Randall’s mentee Katherine M. Hedeen, professor of Spanish at Kenyon College and editor of Action Books.

Hedeen’s Acceptance Speech for Margaret Randall

What words should I use to talk about Margaret Randall? I first thought of “pioneer,” but no. The word carries imperialist and colonialist connotations, and she represents the total rejection of imperialism and colonialism. Then I thought “fearless.” It didn't seem appropriate either, because it’s not that Margaret has never been afraid. The amazing thing about her is all she has done despite fear.

My talents as a translator fail me when I try to come up with the best word to describe this tremendous human being, this amazing woman. Maybe “impressive" or “radical” or “intense” or in Spanish perhaps “cabrona.” And she is in each of these words. But for me the most appropriate is undoubtedly badass.

Margaret is the original rebel. She has rejected and continues to reject every norm, every injustice, and has always done so from poetry. For me, it is her work (her art, her labor, her force) that makes the difference, because for me, she just doesn’t write poetry, she does it. Life and poetry are one in the same. Poetry is action for Margaret, and with it she tears down walls, builds bridges, transcends borders.

She has taught us that the condition of being born in the United States does not justify passivity nor does it mean taking responsibility for everything this country does.

She has taught us that translation in all its manifestations, including literary and cultural, is deeply ethical and political, and that it generates social change.

She has taught us that being a real intellectual is not to be an academic or have a degree, but to go beyond borders, to be part of a wider community of thinkers.

She has taught us that being a woman does not mean being more, and it certainly does not mean being less.

I have said on numerous occasions that Margaret is the mother of us all. I know that, in my case, without her, without her work, her art, her labor, and her force, I would not be who I am, nor would I be here. I am deeply honored to accept this award for her.