A foundation of Poetry, Dudley Randall
On this date in 1914, Dudley Randall was born. He was an African American poet, publisher, editor, and founder of Broadside Press.
He was born in Washington, D.C. and moved with his family to Detroit in 1920. His first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press when he was thirteen. His early readings included English poets from whom he learned form. He was later influenced by the work of Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen.
He worked in a foundry, served in the military during World War II, and worked for the post office while earning degrees in English and library science in 1949 and 1951.
For the next five years, Randall was librarian at Morgan State and Lincoln, Mo., universities, returning to Detroit in 1956 to a position in the Wayne County Federated Library System. After a brief teaching assignment in 1969, he became librarian and poet in residence at the University of Detroit, retiring in 1974.
Randall’s interest in Russia was heightened by a visit to the Soviet Union in 1966. His association with poet Margaret Esse Danner from 1962 to 1964 and his study in Ghana in 1970 enhanced his identification with Africa.
When "Ballad of Birmingham," written in response to the 1963 bombing of a church in which four girls were killed, was set to music and recorded, Randall established Broadside Press in 1965, printing the poem on a single sheet to protect his rights. The first collection by the press was "Poem Counter-poem," 1966, in which he and Danner each thematically matched ten poems on facing pages. Broadside eventually published an anthology, broadsides by other poets, numerous chapbooks, and a series of critical essays. These publications established the reputations of an impressive number of African American poets now well known while providing a platform for many others whose writing was more political than literary. Following the 1967 riot in Detroit, Randall published "Cities Burning," 1968, a group of thirteen poems, all but one previously uncollected.
This pamphlet, like the first, contains poems selected on the basis of theme and does not follow any chronological development in the author's work. Fourteen love poems appeared in 19, "Love You" followed by"More to Remembe" in 1971, fifty poems written over a thirty-year period on a variety of subjects. In 1973, "After the Killing," in 1973, fifteen new poems that comment on such contemporary topics as contradictory attitudes during a period of racial pride and nationalism. Publication of "A Litany of Friends" in 1981 and 1983 followed several years of suicidal depression that laid up Randall and put Broadside Press temporarily at risk. This period of recovery was his most productive, comprising some of his most original though not necessarily his best work. Included are eighty-four poems, thirty very recent ones, and forty-six previously uncollected.
On the "basis of Detroit Renaissance, published in 1980, the mayor of Detroit named Randall poet laureate of that city a year later. A distinctive style is difficult to identify in Randall's poetry. In his early poems he was primarily concerned with construction. He later concentrated on imagery and phrasing, yet some of his more recent work continues to suggest the styles of other poets. Although many of these move with more freedom, originality, and depth of feeling, and include a wider range of themes, others demonstrate a return to traditional form.
While Dudley Randall's reputation as a pioneer in independent African American book publishing is secure, he is sure to be remembered for his poems. Broadside Press became the most important Black press in America. It was a labor of love and vision, continued by Hilda and Donald Vest who took over the press in 1985, and currently by the African World Educators since 1998. All look back to Randall as a role model.
Dudley Randall passed away on August 5, 2000, at the age of 86, leaving behind him an inspiring body of poems, as well as a tender legacy of work in the service of writing.
Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.