Dudley Randall Biography


Born in 1914 to Arthur and Ada Randall, Dudley Felker Randall spent his childhood in Washington, D.C., his birthplace, and East St. Louis. His father was responsible for the young Randall’s awareness of political commitment; he frequently campaigned for blacks seeking political office, and he took Randall with him to hear such speakers as James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois (although Randall reports that at the time he “preferred playing baseball”). Randall’s public education continued when his family moved to Detroit. By this time, he was conscious not only of the political process but also of black literature. Having first begun to write poetry at the early age of thirteen, Randall purchased a copy of Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923) when he was sixteen; he was so impressed by Toomer’s precise images and powerful symbolism that Toomer became—and remained—his favorite black poet. By 1930, the time of his graduation from the public school system, also at sixteen, Randall was well read in the major writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

After graduation in the midst of the Great Depression, Randall eventually found work as a foundry worker for the Ford Motor Company from 1932 to 1937. Sometime in 1933, he met the poet Robert Hayden, also living in Detroit, with whom he shared his poetry and discussed the major poets of the time. Their exchange of poems and ideas was to help him sharpen his skills and was to remain a mutually enriching friendship for many years. By 1938, Randall had taken a job with the U.S. Post Office as a letter carrier, work he was to continue until...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)