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 1951, except for his service in the U.S. Army during World War II as a member of the signal corps in the South Pacific (1942-1946). After returning from military duty, Randall attended Wayne State University and graduated in 1949. While still working for the post office, Randall also managed to complete work for a master’s degree in library science from the University of Michigan in 1951.
Degree in hand, Randall began his career as a librarian by accepting an appointment with Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, where he remained until 1954. He was promoted to associate librarian when he moved to Baltimore to work for Morgan State College for the next two years. In 1956, he returned to Detroit, where he was to work for the Wayne County Federated Library System until 1969, first as a branch librarian and then as head of the reference and interloan department (1963-1969). Randall’s introduction to several relatively unknown black poets from Detroit at a planning meeting for a special issue of Negro History Bulletin in 1962 led to his determination to see more work by new black poets become available; thus, he became the founding editor of the Broadside Press in 1965. His collaboration with Margaret Danner, who had founded Boone House, a Detroit cultural center, produced his first published book of poems, Poem Counterpoem from Broadside Press (its first publication as well).
With the publication of Randall’s second book, Cities Burning, his reputation as a poet and publisher grew, and 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. 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. Melba Boyd’s well-received documentary film on Randall’s life and work, Black Unicorn , was released in 1996. Randall died of congestive...
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