David Ewing and Alice Randall bring star power to any gathering – Nashville luminaries much in demand for their wit and intellect, their kindness and sparkle. David is a ninth-generation Nashvillian, an attorney, and one of Nashville’s most knowledgeable local historians. You’ll often find him being interviewed, giving a talk, or sharing an item from his extensive collection of Nashville memorabilia. His wife, Alice Randall, is one of Nashville’s best-known and most highly regarded authors – and also the first black woman to write a number one country song! Alice currently serves as writer-in-residence and faculty head of Stambaugh House at Vanderbilt, where she and David greatly enjoy living with the students (if not always the late nights). David is also deeply engaged in campus life at Montgomery Bell Academy, where he’s doing a tour of duty. Alice and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams recently received a 2016 NAACP Award for Outstanding Literary Work for their cookbook and history, Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family. She has also written the novels Wind Done Gone, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Rebel Yell, Ada’s Rules, and Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess (the latter with her daughter). Alice and David bring energetic warmth and attentiveness to settings large and small, whether you’re meeting for a cup of coffee or one of them is on the stage. They each bring a wonderful fearlessness to conversation: if you bring it up, they’re happy to talk about it. When they talk, people want to listen.
Today, I’m delighted they took some time to reflect on summers past and present and tell us what they’re reading now!
What do you love about summer?
David: The History and the Holidays. The holidays of summer – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Juneteenth, and Labor Day – are all holidays that invite us to remember our history and affirm our national identity. I love that. Memorial Day honors our dead, the Fourth of July honors our freedom, Juneteenth honors the importance of communication and knowledge, and Labor Day honors the work ethic that made this country great.
Alice: The Literature and the Vegetables. I have so much more time to read fiction in the summer. Three summers ago on Martha’s Vineyard I read 24 novels in one five week period. During the year I find that I now mainly read non-fiction, history, critisim, biography. In the summer that changes. Moving into the mind of another by immersing in a fictive world that other has created is my very favorite way to travel in the summer. From the strawberries of May to the tomatoes of midsummer to the local corn, summer is the most delicious season to cook straight from the Tennessee garden – your own or in our case Sylvia Ganier’s Green Door Gourmet.
What did you love about summer as a kid?
David: I would spend part of my summer with my grandparents in Tuskegee, Alabama. My grandfather practiced medicine in the nearby little country towns, but Tuskegee was where I discovered my love of history. They would let me wander free and I would find my way to George Washington Carver Museum. Old folks in town loved telling me stories – including Lionel Richie’s grandmother who lived two doors from my Aunt. It was a regular summer treat to hear the Commodores practice before they went on tour. Back in Nashville it was Nashville Sounds games, Ben West Library, Opryland. I had a season pass. Back then that was big stuff for a local kid.
Alice: No wonder I love you. My summers were books and museums too – and swimming pools. I moved to D.C. when I was eight. My Washington summers were reading a book a day taken out from the Takoma Park Library, rambling through the cool halls of the National History Museum, and the National Gallery, and other Washington Museums, and swimming in backyard pools, or at the five acre pond in our country house outside of Middleberg, or in the ocean at Rehoboth or Bethany Beach.
Memorable summer job as a teen?
David: Cleaning the 19th century type at Hatch Show Print. Back then I knew I was working on the letters that had announced Elvis, the Opry, and the Ryman, but I didn’t know the rest of the history until I met Jim Sheridan who has done more than any other person to further the art and preserve the history of Hatch Show Print, and discovered I had cleaned type that printed early civil rights posters.
Alice: The summer before I went to college I was a copy girl for the newspaper the Washington Star. Mainly we monitored the incoming AP and UPI wire. I pulled off the announcement that Elvis had died and had to run it to the newsroom. I’ll never forget the numbers of people who fell into their chairs and started crying. That inspired me to look deeper into country music and Nashville.
True or false: Summer is overrated.
David: False. Particularly in Nashville. No better way to spend the Fourth of July than start off at Whitland, zip over to the hot chicken festival in East Nashville, then migrate either downtown for the fireworks over the river or out west to see them over a golf course.
Alice: False. I love that time to read without purpose and to taste Tennessee by biting into a tomato turned red by the Nashville sun fed by Nashville soil.
Beach or lake?
David: Lakes. Nashville doesn’t have beaches and I’m a Nashvillian through and through the way you can only be when nine generations of your family are buried in Davidson County. I have tried to convert Alice, but I married a woman who loves ocean waves, who loves sand, salty waters, and surf. The closest I’ve come to getting her to love a lake was Lake Ladoga in St. Petersburg, Russia. We went there on our honeymoon.
Alice: Beach. I was born in Detroit so I first knew rivers and lakes – but the first time I saw the ocean, the chilly grey Atlantic, I fell in love. When we got married nineteen years ago I promised David I would live in Nashville most of the time and for a good long while, but sometime we also had to live in a place where I can see waves from my bedroom window. Recently, David has started to ask “Does it have to be ocean water?” Our compromise has come to be the occasional week on Martha’s Vineyard. We love to be up island on a farm overlooking the sea.
Ice cream or sorbet?
David: Back in the day, I would get an ice cream in a plastic baseball hat at the Sounds game. Ben and Max, can we bring that back?
Alice: Homemade ice cream. Made with Hatcher Mountain Dairy cream and Peach Truck peaches.
Favorite summer drink and where you’ll be drinking it?
David: Coca-cola. I’m fortunate many great Nashville hostesses keep a cold coke or two on ice for me because they know I prefer a coke to most cocktails.
Alice: I love a summer cocktail. Current favorites are the Sealbach at Le Sel and the Toy Soldier at Bastion. At home the best easiest and lowest calorie and carb summer cocktail I know is two fingers of a repasado tequila over ice, a squeeze of lime, topped off with Perrier orange.
Best amusement park ride or game? Or food.
David: The late, lamented Wabash Cannonball at Opryland.
Alice: Now I love, love, love the original Tivoli gardens in Denmark. It is a sweet place, more garden and artisan gallery, the rides are hand carved and hand painted, the air is crisp, it’s relatively quiet, it was the first amusement park I took daughter Caroline too and the only one she loved – but for wow factor – the late, lamented Flume Zoom at Opryland. Now what was wonderful at Opryland was the live music. I heard Roy Acuff there and Trisha Yearwood right in the park. You’d get high on the music and the soft southern air and then the rides were the neon cherry on the almost but not quite too sweet Sundae.
Favorite summertime restaurant in Nashville:
David: The Bandbox, located in the right field of First Tennesee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds. Great food, great entertainment, great putt-putt, and you might catch a home run ball.
Alice: City House. Tandy works magic with the summer vegetables. When he roasts out in his side yard of his restaurant – it’s a holy thing – a sacred place – a family reunion with family you didn’t know you had and everybody is getting on great.
What are you reading this summer?
David: Strong Inside is the all school read at Montgomery Bell Academy and The Commons read for incoming freshman to Vanderbilt. I read it when it came out, but it was at the top of my summer reading pile for a re-read.
Alice: This summer, unlike most summers, I’m writing more than I am reading. I’m working on a novel called Zagging with Ziggy set in Detroit between the end of the Second World War and the death of Martin Luther King.
What would you recommend to a friend as summer reading?
David: Soul Food Love. If you follow the recipes you might get to eat at home as well as I do in the summer. And it just won the Pat Conroy Prize.
Alice: Lucy Negro Redux, by Caroline Randall Williams. Or The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. Or The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Each of these is super short, lyric, literary, and in its own way hotter than hot. They’re significant and sensual pleasures that go down easy – but leave you informed by the tasting. For me that’s one kind of perfect summer read.
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Great interview with two amazing talents!
Thanks, Dara! Xo
I loved reading this! I was fortunate enough to get to interview Alice a few years ago after her book “Ada’s Rules” came out–I wrote an article about her and her approach toward food and life for H2U: Health to You magazine (an HCA mag). It was one of the most enjoyable afternoons of my writing career.
I loved Ada’s Rules – and I know what you mean about having fun with an interview! Xo
So glad! Thx Patricia! Xo
Thank you — makes me want to pick up more Ondaatje
I had the same thought! Xo
How can you not love Alice and David! Such a delightful read for all of us!
Agreed! Thanks, Ridley! Xo