AMFM Magazine: The Voice of the Artist
Margaret, the new book is published, THE HELL’S ANGELS LETTERS: HUNTER S. THOMPSON, MARGARET HARRELL AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN CLASSIC. Grant Goodwine, a protégé of Ralph Steadman, did the cover artwork. Could you tell us about this? How did the whole project come about?
Margaret Harrell: It was a series of coincidences—or unlikely events—from start to finish, beginning with the existence of the letters themselves from Hunter Thompson to me, without which there would have been no book, no record of the story. The journey reminds me of pataphysica (“absurd irony”), a word made famous by French symbolist Alfred Jarry. The letters existed because Random House editor-in-chief Jim Silberman, who assigned me to copy edit Hunter’s first book, Hell’s Angels, broke with protocol. Normally, I would have done the copy editing, gotten Jim’s approval, then invited the author to fly to New York City and sit side by side with me to go over the suggestions and penciled marks on his manuscript for a day, or day by day for a week. Just for Hunter, Jim canceled that procedure. So we had to communicate by letter and phone. Then, when I left Random House, I took the letters with me. I won’t go over the ironic coincidence that came up there. Next, they endured FIFTY YEARS—in acidic paper—while I lived in four countries, including Morocco. Fortunately, they were not in my carry-on stolen at the Carey shuttle terminal in New York and were not in my storage that got overrun with fire ants in North Carolina.
So, basically, for years while I lived outside the US—in Morocco, in Switzerland, in Belgium—the letters survived transport and storage, as if they were charmed with an order not to disintegrate or disappear. By the time Hunter died, in 2005, I’d just relocated back to the U.S. He died, coincidentally on February 20, 2005, and I’d first met him in person February 20, 1967, when he had come to New York to start his Hell’s Angels book tour. Soon after he died I (with butterflies) contacted Doug Brinkley, the Estate literary executor, and he knew who I was (Hunter had told me), so he allowed me to excerpt from my letters in a memoir called Keep This Quiet! My Relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, Milton Klonsky, and Jan Mensaert (2011). I knew no one in the Gonzo community, but this book opened the door, and in 2014, I first spoke at the Louisville Gonzofest, by invitation of Ron Whitehead, the poet-performer-scholar who is the collaborator on this Letters book. That opened more doors. . . .
Remember that The Hell’s Angels Letters: Hunter S. Thompson, Margaret Harrell and the Making of an American Classic is ONLY available for purchase at the publisher’s website: https://norfolkpress.com. Or check it out here: https://thompson.norfolkpress.com