When New Labour came to power, we got a Right-wing Conservative government. I came to realise that voting Labour wasn’t in Scotland’s interests any more. Any doubt I had about that was cast aside for ever when I saw Gordon Brown cosying up to Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street.
In 1965, I went to what was called the worst Bihar famine in India, and I saw starvation, death, people dying of hunger, for the first time. It changed my life. I came back home, told my mother, ‘I’d like to live and work in a village.’ Mother went into a coma.
The notion of ‘history from below’ hit the history profession in England very hard around the time I came to Oxford in the early 1960s.
I came into my teens unaware that most Americans, blacks as well as whites, were ignorant of the main facts of Negro history. And so it was the facts of other histories that I found most intriguing. I fell into a U.S. history major by chance late in my second year at Fisk University.
Womenfolk raised me, and I was full-grown before I knew I came from a broken home.
I did not have a very literary background. I came to poetry from the sciences and mathematics, and also through an interest in Japanese and Chinese poetry in translation.
I came from a farming background, and my career was teaching.
My mother and I were part of a deal in the mid-’60s between Romania and Israel. Israel bought freedom for Romanian Jews for $2,000 a head. Ceausescu made a bundle in hard currency. He also ‘sold’ ethnic Germans to West Germany. Instead of going to Israel, my mother and I came to the United States.