Authors: Dudley Randall

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and publisher

Identity: African American

Author Works

Poetry:

Poem Counterpoem, 1966 (with Margaret Danner)

Cities Burning, 1968

Love You, 1970

More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades, 1971

After the Killing, 1973

A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems, 1981, revised 1983

Nonfiction:

Broadside Memories: Poets I Have Known, 1975

Edited Texts:

For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X, 1967 (with Margaret G. Burroughs)

Black Poetry: A Supplement to Anthologies Which Exclude Black Poets, 1969

The Black Poets, 1971

Homage to Hoyt Fuller, 1984

Biography

Dudley Felker Randall was one of the most influential forces in African American poetry from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. One reason is that his poetry provides a bridge between the more traditional Western poetic forms used by earlier writers such as Countée Cullen and the new themes and style of the generation of poets springing up in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps even more important, however, is the fact that he established Broadside Press, which became a primary forum for new black voices.{$I[AN]9810001579}{$I[A]Randall, Dudley}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Randall, Dudley}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Randall, Dudley}{$I[tim]1914;Randall, Dudley}

Randall was born in Washington, D.C. His father, a minister, and his mother, a schoolteacher, provided him with early access to the world of poetry and the world of political thought, both of which became central to his literary career. At four, he wrote his own lyrics to the song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” which he heard at a band concert with his mother; at thirteen, he won a poetry prize in a contest sponsored by the Detroit Free Press. During his childhood, Randall’s father took him to hear such great black poets and political figures of the day as James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois. After Randall’s graduation from high school in 1930, jobs were scarce because of the Depression. Eventually he found work at Ford Motor Company and then with the United States Post Office. During World War II, he served in the Army in the South Pacific. After the war, he returned to school, eventually receiving a master’s degree in library science from Michigan State University. He worked at libraries in Missouri and Maryland before returning to Michigan, where he was employed by the Wayne County Federated Library System until 1969. From 1964 to 1969, Randall was poet-in-residence and librarian at the University of Detroit. In 1962 and 1966, he received the Tompkins Award for both poetry and fiction from Wayne State University.

In 1965 Randall established Broadside Press. Its inception occurred when he wished to copyright his poem, “Ballad of Birmingham.” He paired it with another ballad, “Dressed All in Pink.” These became Broadside’s numbers one and two, thus giving the press its name. Both are rhymed ballads. “Ballad of Birmingham” tells of a child killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963. The mother, afraid of danger, denies her child’s request to attend a freedom march, sending the child to church instead. The last stanza portrays the mother discovering her child’s shoe in the rubble. “Dressed All in Pink” is in the style of a folk ballad, complete with a prince and princess out for a ride. The royal couple are President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, riding through Dallas. Broadside poems by other writers followed. Soon the series provided inexpensive copies of poems by both new and established African American writers.

The first book of poetry that the press published was a collaborative work between Randall and Margaret Danner called Poem Counterpoem. The two produced pairs of poems on the same subject, and they were set side by side. Randall published a second collection in 1968, Cities Burning. Its twelve poems reflect the variety of styles and themes that characterizes Randall’s work, as he blends rhymed and free verse, political commentary, and traditional subject matter. In view of this balance, the poem “Black Poet, White Critic” seems particularly ironic, as it presents a critic’s advice to avoid “controversial subjects like freedom and murder” in order to concentrate on universal symbols, such as the white unicorn.

With the publication of Cities Burning, Randall’s reputation as a poet and publisher grew. He doubled as poet-in-residence and reference librarian for the University of Detroit from 1969 to 1975. During this time, he also taught courses in black literature at the university, gave a number of readings, and was involved in conferences and seminars throughout the country. In 1966, Randall, with a delegation of black artists, visited Paris, Prague, and the Soviet Union, where he read his translations and his own poems to Russian audiences. In 1970, he visited West Africa, touring Ghana, Togo, and Dahomey and meeting with African writers.

Broadside published works by other black writers as well. The anthology For Malcolm, co-edited by Randall, was a landmark volume that combined many of the best of the older generation of African American writers with strong new voices: Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka (at that time known as LeRoi Jones), Sonia Sanchez, and Etheridge Knight. Soon authors who had been published elsewhere sought out Broadside Press. It published a number of works by Gwendolyn Brooks; although Randall advised her that she might be better off with an established firm, she insisted on using Broadside. Nikki Giovanni brought her second book, Black Judgment, to Broadside in 1968.

Randall also continued writing, as well as editing and publishing. His next book of poetry, Love You, was a collection of fourteen love poems, ranging from the traditional to free verse. More to Remember, a volume of collected poems, again reveals Randall’s variety in style and theme. During the late 1960’s Randall toured the Soviet Union and West Africa. Several of the poems in his next book, After the Killing, reflect this. “African Suite” contains a series of poems set in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. It also includes a translation from the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. A Litany of Friends, contains eighty-two poems and is divided into five sections according to theme: “Friends,” “Eros,” “War,” “Africa,” and “Me.”

After his retirement in 1975, Randall continued his involvement in writing conferences and readings, but he devoted the majority of his time to the Broadside Press and his own writing. Randall was appointed poet laureate of the city of Detroit in 1981. In 1985 he sold Broadside Press. A celebration of his eighty-second birthday in 1996, held at the Detroit Institute of Arts, was marked by the premiere of Melba Boyd’s documentary film about Randall’s life, called The Black Unicorn. Randall died after a long struggle with congestive heart failure on August 5, 2000.

BibliographyBoyd, Melba Joyce. Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Boyd, a former friend and colleague of Randall, presents an affectionate authorized biography.Melhem, D. H. “Dudley Randall: A Humanist View.” Black American Literature Forum 17 (1983). This excellent article surveys Randall’s poetry and includes a biographical overview of his life and career and brief analyses of significant poems. Melhem stresses that Randall is a humanist, a label the poet himself accepts. Includes notes that are somewhat useful in finding other sources on Randall, especially general surveys and interviews.Miller, R. Baxter, ed. Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986. Clearly discusses Randall’s life and poetry.Randall, Dudley. “Black Publisher, Black Writer: An Answer.” Black World 24 (March, 1975). Records Randall’s own reflections about the world of black publishing houses and the pros and cons concerning a black writer’s use of a black or white publisher.Randall, Dudley. Broadside Memories: Poets I Have Known. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1975. An interesting insight into the founding of Broadside Press ten years earlier.Randall, Dudley. “In Conversation with Dudley Randall.” Interview by Charles H. Rowell. Obsidian 2, no. 1 (1976). An important interview focusing primarily on Randall’s poetic career rather than his role as a publisher. Discusses his background, the influences on his life and work, his indebtedness to the Harlem Renaissance, his views of poetry, and his process of composition.Randall, Dudley. “The Message Is in the Melody: An Interview with Dudley Randall.” Interview by Leana Ampadu. Callaloo 22, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 438-445. Randall discusses his family and work.Redding, Saunders. “The Black Arts Movement in Negro Poetry.” American Scholar 42 (1973). This article attempts to criticize the “increasing rigidity” of the Black Arts movement, with particular regard to the “new concept of the black and blackness.” In contrast to those within this movement, Randall, though a publisher of many poets in the movement, exhibits an earlier, more humanistic tradition in touch with the American past.Thompson, Julius Eric. Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999. A history of the Broadside Press founded by Randall and his subsequent involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Through Randall and the Broadside Press, hundreds of black writers were given an outlet for their work and for their calls for equality and black identity.Waters, Mark V. “Dudley Randall and the Liberation Aesthetic: Confronting the Politics of ‘Blackness.’” CLA Journal 44, no. 1 (September, 2000). A summary of Randall’s efforts as both publisher and poet. The platform for black poetry of diverse style, language, and theme maintained by Randall helped counter the rising influence of radical and militant black poetry that threatened to engulf the larger array of black poetic expression under its own political agenda.
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