author of Hook
Interviewed by Lee Hope
and Fiction Editor
Lee: The structure of your memoir is so effective. It uses a segmentation or mosaic technique, with letters to and from Lxxxx, Journal Notes to [SELF] interspersed with narrative excerpts from your life. The cumulative effect is emotionally powerful. How did you come to use this narrative strategy?
Randall: The form or structure evolved over time. The idea of integrating other narratives happened while writing letters to Lxxxx. I would send sections of my memoir drafts and she would comment. Over time it seemed only natural that I include the letters as a brace and the memoir functions as flashbacks.
The “notes” came from observations written in my journal when I would take the train to visit Lxxxx in a federal holding facility in Brooklyn. The train is a writing sanctuary to me, and a lot of my poetic work has its genesis through train travel. In the end, I wanted the readers to have several different narratives that culminated into an overarching narrative.
Lee: Do you believe that suffering is necessary to redemption? You write, “. . . in failure resides future triumph.” You mention a sign: “Have you Seen the Dark.” Would you have become the writer you are without having been an addict and a drug dealer? Without having gone to prison?
Randall: I don’t know if suffering is necessary for redemption, but in order to have been redeemed one most have done something to create a need for redemption. Failure or disappointment through actions and then reversing those actions for a greater good can be viewed as triumph. I’ll say this: I do believe the past informs the future. In my present and future, I use past events as a roadmap of what to do and what to avoid. In terms of my writing path, I probably would not have become a writer at all if not for incarceration. I didn’t even know writing a book was possible. The have you seen the dark sign is for the reader and the protagonist simultaneously. The journal that phrase appears in foreshadows the horrific to come.
Lee: You repeat in Hook almost as a mantra: The rock is holy. You describe addiction as “Nowhere to run, and options do not exist when flashing red lights produce a siren inside your head.” Can you describe how you got hooked on drugs when a student at Howard University? And how did you get the nickname Hook? You write, “In other words, I could hook ‘em and sell a dream.” Has the metaphorical significance of that name changed for you now, in retrospect, in (re)memory?
Randall: Well, to be honest, I can’t give you the exact moment I was “hooked,” but I can tell you my roommate at that time had a father who smuggled drugs into the Miami for the Colombians. He would give his son large quantiles to sell in DC at college. We were good friends and roommates at that time, so I was given the opportunity to make a lot of money while being sucked into the drug. What happens is when that money and good times dry up, which it did, while we were in college, you have to continue the lifestyle you started.
The idea of hook’em and sell a dream is simple. One could call it the gift of gab, or being able to convince people to do something they don’t want to do, or do, but just don’t know it yet. Part of what I did while selling drugs was to secure investment money to buy large quantities of cocaine. More times than not, this money came from everyday people who didn’t do drugs, but wanted the financial gain. It wasn’t a con because they would get their money back plus interest. But, it goes to the adage of “something for nothing.”
Lee: You write in a letter to Lxxx, “It is only through writing this memoir that I am able to own up to my past . . . I have to go back to spaces I tried to bury long ago. It’s all the digging that drains you . . . But I know I have to tell this story in order to continue freeing myself of the guilt . . . I could just never tap those memories, but they will not stop echoing in my head, so I conjure them and write to get free.” Could you talk about how writing has the power to set you free?
Randall: Well, for me, the first few months I was locked up, I entered a program in the county jail in Montgomery County that focused on group interaction with a writing component. We were often given assignments to write about the pain and harm we had caused others, which forced me to deal with myself and what made me tick as a human being. By reliving my narrative for various points of view, I was better able to deconstruct and reconstruct my life’s purpose. Over time, the power of the imagination— thinking creatively and drawing upon my past at times—it has all allowed me to come to grips with my past.
Lee: Would you speak about your work with the experimental performance group “Heroes are Gang Leaders.”
Randall: Heroes Are Gang Leaders is my creative sanctuary right now. HAGL, founded by Thomas Sayers Ellis and James Brandon Lewis, is an avant-garde/experimental band heavily influence by literary works. I feel honored to be included in this creative process that has helped produced three projects. I will leave you with a cut we did for Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial titled WeWeWE the Remarkable. https://soundcloud.com/heroesaregangleaders/wewewewe-the-remarkable-final
RANDALL HORTON is an assistant professor of English at the University of New Haven in Connecticut and the author of Hook (2015) Pitch Dark Anarchy (2013), The Definition of Place (2006) and The Lingua Franca of Ninth Street (2009). He is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea González Poetry Award, and a National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellowship. His critical and creative work has appeared in the print journals Callaloo, Sou’wester, Caduceus, New Haven Review, and the online journal The Offending Adam. Horton is a fellow of Cave Canem and a member of both the Affrilachian Poets and the experimental performance group Heroes are Gang Leaders.