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Margot Adler

Journalist
1946 – 2014
by Jim Freund

Margot was seven and a half years my senior and, with the exception of a few gaps, she’s always been a part of my life. There is some reason to believe that we met when I was less than one year old and again when I was 10. However, our real friendship began when I was 13 and she 20.

For years, we were inseparable. When she got married, we still spent time together, although we had less contact as she and John raised their son.

Over the last seven years we became close again, for which I am most grateful. Without her in my life, I do not know who I would have become. Outside of my partner, she is the person who has helped and supported me in the things in my life that I can hold my head up high about.

Seldom was the time that I was with her that someone wouldn’t recognize her; not necessarily as a celebrity—radio people and writers tend not to be bothered by that particular problem—but as someone who was a friend or whose life she had directly improved.

Let’s take a step back. Margot was the granddaughter of Alfred Adler, the founder of individual psychology and for some years, the collaborator of Sigmund Freud. Her father, Kurt Adler, is best known for bringing the practice his father had developed to the U.S. (I like to say he invented the 45-minute hour.)

Margot was a Berkeley free-speech radical in “the Day” (as she called the Sixties), majoring in political science. She began her career in journalism by working for the original Pacifica radio station, KPFA, as a reporter. Among her early stories was coverage of the 1965 Freedom March.

Margot came back to New York City around 1967 at the age of 20 and immediately began working for WBAI, Pacifica’s NY station, while doing her master’s in journalism at Columbia. Stories that she reported for WBAI included her experiences as a part of the second Venceremos Brigade, a group of radicals and journalists who visited Cuba despite the embargo, cutting sugar cane and watching Castro pitch baseball. (When Castro pitches, you don’t “dig in at the plate,” glaring in challenge is a bad idea.)

In 1972 she made a deal with WBAI management to get her own free-form live radio show. At the time, WBAI went off the air loosely between 3 or 5 AM and came back on at 7 AM. Margot talked them into giving her the 5–7 AM timeslot and called it Hour of the Wolf after the film by Ingmar Bergman, a phrase which refers to the morning twilight. I was her engineer and frequent co-host, and eventually inherited the program, which still continues today.

Margot had a real intimacy with her listeners; she spoke to so many individuals in a heartening, informed, and always fascinating manner. Not to negate the brilliant work she did after this, I believe (and she indicated to me) that these were her most personally creative moments on radio. I feel truly honored to have been a part of that, and be able to carry on the program she began.

In 1973, Margot was spirited away by the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, where her teachers included such sages as Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, and Harlan Ellison.  But she was one of the few Clarion graduates whose destiny did not lie in becoming a writer of fiction. Not long ago, when I asked Margot why she never took up writing SF, she replied, “I guess I’ve spent so much of my life searching for Truth, writing fiction didn’t seem like the right thing.”

It is during this same era that Margot became fascinated with Wicca, when she and I attended a lecture at the Blessed Be shop on 57th Street by a woman billing herself as Witch Walli. This was in keeping with her love for science fiction and fantasy novels and nature; it was a faith which encapsulated the things that were so important to her life, and was matriarchal, to boot.

In fact, it is as the author of Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, published in 1979 (and never out of print since), that Margot may have had the greatest influence on people on a deep personal level. Without that anthropological and heartfelt study, Wicca may not have gotten as strong a foothold in the US as it did.

In 1976 she became committed to her husband-to-be, John Gliedman, who was also a friend of mine.

If all that weren’t enough, she began freelancing for the newly born National Public Radio while moonlighting at WBAI. In 1983 she was brought onto NPR’s staff, but told she could only serve one radio outlet. Outside of being a guest, her days at WBAI were over.

And it is through her work for NPR that she is best known. On All Things Considered and Morning Edition she covered a wide variety of topics including AIDS, religious paramilitary groups in New York City, 9/11, Harry Potter (including an interview with J.K. Rowling), birding in Central Park, and the phenomenon of vampire fiction.

Margot’s fascination with vampires began when her husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She began to explore the question of immortality, at what price it might be obtained, and the need to keep a form of your loved ones around. She read nearly 300 pieces of fiction in about three years, which culminated in her third book, Vampires Are Us, which explored her theory that vampires from different eras represent a form of desired or actual power. She also went on to lecture on this topic.

A year after John died, Margot was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She died at age 68 in late July of 2014.

I have never witnessed the kind of outpouring of love and mourning as I did when Margot died. To so many of people, she was one of Us, even though “Us” might be from totally disparate communities. She was a birdwatcher. A leader in her religious community. A speculative fiction fan. Talk show host. Journalist. Culture lover. Traveler. Online personality. Lecturer. Mentor. Friend. So many more.

This is why no one person knew all there was to know about her.

I am selfish enough to believe I knew her better than most. But I have learned enough to know she offered that gift to all whose life she touched.

Jim Freund is a radio producer and talk show host at New York's Pacifica Radio station, WBAI, as well as a podcast host. Many of his best years have been spent with Margot Adler as his best friend.

6 Comments

Thank you, Jim, for this biography of Margot. I count myself as one of Margot's many friends and have been asked to write a biography of her for the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society. Margot did many presentations for UU women and at UU churches including in Brooklyn and at All Souls where she was a member. She is dearly missed! The International Convoctaion of Unitarian Universalist Women had Margot as a key presenter at its first two convocations. ICUUW just initiated the Margot Adler Scholarship Fund contributions for which will go to scholarship young women to attend our next Convocation at Asilomar Conference Center on the Monterey Peninsula California in February, 2017.

Beautiful tribute Jim. I can still hear her wonderful laughter "Fabulous!"

Never knew her too very well, but was put in mind of Margot by your remembrance. Thanks for helping extending the thought devoted to her in these days.

Thank you, Jim. Well said!

I never made the connection between the two of you until her death. She was one of my favorite NPR people, and I've missed her. Thanks for this lovely tribute.

Thanks, Laurie. Too bad you missed her fannish, con-going days. I was hoping to revive them, and did get her to Lunacon this past year. I was hoping for Readercon, but she wasn't feeling quite up to it. You would have liked each other.

Margot Adler, 2010
Full image
Margot Adler at the KGB Bar Fantastic Fiction Reading Series in 2010.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Margot Adler, 1946 - 2014." (Viewed on September 25, 2017) <https://jwa.org/weremember/adler-margot>.

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