This isn't Randall's autobiography, though she and her protagonist, Ada Howard, share some distinguishing features. Randall is 53, her husband is a white-collar professional (a lawyer), they live in Nashville and, like Ada, Randall is a teacher. Also like Ada, Randall has been battling her weight.
Randall will read from her book on Friday at 1 p.m. at the Atlanta Fulton Public Library's main branch.
Her work has always dealt with some aspect of the African-American experience, whether in her second novel "Pushkin and the Queen of Spades" or "Rebel Yell," her third. But "Ada's Rules" especially is directed toward African-American women, particularly those who are overweight. And according to the CDC, that's 4 out of five black women. The other statistic that braced Randall: 1 in 4 middle-aged black women have diabetes. A fact she learned, ironically, during a student's presentation in Randall's literary history of soul food class that she teaches at Vanderbilt.
"I weighed over 225 pounds when I was touring with 'Rebel Yell,' and I saw too many other — particular young women — who were very large, and I just decided I truly needed to do something about it," Randall said. "I decided I was either going to lose the weight or have [gastric bypass] surgery, because I wasn't going to go into the second half of my life being that overweight. Then I decided I could really put it on the agenda by writing a book about it."
Randall caused a minor two-news-cycle dustup this spring when she wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times in which she said many black women are fat because they choose to be. She maintains the reasons are cultural and longstanding, but her book gives context to that statement, often hilariously so, in a laugh-with-you-not-at-you kind of way.
"I believe we are beautiful in all shapes and sizes and colors, but I also believe that we have the right to pursue our health and to be the shape and size that is healthiest for us at the age and stage we are in life," Randall said. "It's not trying to do miracles, it's trying to do good enough."
So Ada decides that soul food is a baked sweet potato rather than greasy chicken, that a 30-minute walk each day is better than none at all. Each rule, which Randall developed in part from reading everything from academic weight loss studies to low-fat cookbooks, is one she tried herself.
There was a payoff for Ada. And in the end, there was one for Randall.
"I may never get small, but I'm way under 200 pounds now," she said.
Alice Randall, reads from her new novel "Ada's Rules"
Free. Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Atlanta Fulton Public Library Central Library auditorium, 1 Margaret Mitchell Square; www.afpls.org, 404-730-1906