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Dudley Randall

(1914—2000)


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(1914–2000), poet, publisher, editor, and founder of Broadside Press.

Dudley Randall was born 14 January 1914 in Washington, D.C., but moved to Detroit in 1920. His first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press when he was thirteen. His early reading included English poets from whom he learned form. He was later influenced by the work of Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen.

His employment in a foundry is recalled in “George” (Poem Counterpoem), written after encountering a once vigorous coworker in a hospital years later. His military service during World War II is reflected in such poems as “Coral Atoll” and “Pacific Epitaphs” (More to Remember).

Randall worked in the post office while earning degrees in English and library science (1949 and 1951). For the next five years he 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.

His interest in Russia, apparent in his translations of poems by Aleksander Pushkin (“I Loved You Once,” After the Killing) and Konstantin Simonov (“My Native Land” and “Wait for Me” in A Litany of Friends), was heightened by a visit to the Soviet Union in 1966. His identification with Africa, enhanced by his association with poet Margaret Esse Danner from 1962 to 1964 and study in Ghana in 1970, is evident in such poems as “African Suite” (After the Killing).

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 Counterpoem (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 a chronological development in the author's work. Fourteen love poems appeared in 1970 (Love You), followed by More to Remember (1971), fifty poems written over a thirty-year period on a variety of subjects, and After the Killing (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 (1981; rpt. 1983) followed several years of suicidal depression that incapacitated 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.

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Subjects: Literature.


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