Dudley Randall 1914-2000
(Full name Dudley Felker Randall) American poet, essayist, and publisher.
The following entry provides an overview of Randall's career through 1990. See also Dudley Randall Criticism (Volume 1).
Randall is widely recognized for his commitment to publishing the works of young black poets. He is also noted for his promotion of small black presses and black literary achievement, his high standards for both the aesthetic value and social relevance of poetry, and his influence on an entire generation of poets. As publisher, critic, and poet, Randall is recognized for bridging the generation gap between the Harlem Renaissance poets of the 1920s and the emerging young African-American poets of the 1960s, who are often referred to as members of a “new” Harlem Renaissance. Randall is particularly credited with influencing the careers of Etheridge Knight and Haki R. Madhubuti (also known as Don L. Lee). In addition to his work as poet, Randall is acclaimed as the founder and editor of Broadside Press, a company that helped launch the careers of many young black poets. Two early successful volumes published by Broadside include For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X (1967), a collection of poems by various authors in memory of Malcolm X, and Poem Counterpoem (1966), which included ten poems by Randall and ten poems by Margaret Danner.
Randall was born on January 14, 1914, in Washington D.C. When he was nine, his family moved to Detroit, and at the age of thirteen Randall won first prize for a sonnet he wrote in a poetry contest sponsored by The Detroit Free Press, for which he received one dollar. He earned a bachelor's degree in English from Wayne State University in 1949, and in 1951 he received a master's degree in library science at the University of Michigan. Randall worked at both the Ford Motor Company foundry and the United States Post Office, and served in the United States Army Signal Corps. In the 1950s and 1960s, Randall was a librarian at Lincoln University, Morgan State College (now Morgan State University), and at the Wayne County Federated Library System. In 1969, he was visiting lecturer at the University of Michigan. Randall founded Broadside Press in Detroit in 1963, originally in order to publish “broadsides,” or one-page reprints of previously-published famous poems in an aesthetically pleasing format, suitable for framing. But Randall and his colleagues soon saw the need for a small press to publish the works of young black poets often overlooked by larger publishing houses. Randall conceived the idea for the first major publication of Broadside Press at a conference at Fisk University, where he noted that a number of poets had written about Malcolm X. Consequently, Broadside Press published For Malcolm, a collection of poems written by various authors in memory of Malcolm X. Randall remained editor of Broadside Press from 1965 to 1977, during which time he published over sixty volumes of poetry and criticism, including five volumes of his own poetry. Randall edited a collection titled Black Poetry in 1969. Collections of Randall's own poetry include Cities Burning (1968), Love You (1970), More to Remember (1971), and After the Killing (1973). In 1977, he sold the press, but continued to work for Broadside as a consultant. In 1981, A Litany of Friends was published, and that same year he was named First Poet Laureate of Detroit by Mayor Coleman Young. Randall died on August 5, 2000 of congestive heart failure at the age of 86.
For Malcolm includes poems by established black writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, and Margaret Walker, as well as younger poets such as Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Etheridge Knight, Larry Neal, and Sonia Sanchez. Although For Malcolm was initially conceived first, problems at the printer delayed its publication and another collection, Poem Counterpoem, was published before it. Randall collaborated with Margaret Danner to write Poem Counterpoem, which is organized so that ten poems with corresponding themes by each author appear on facing pages. In “Ballad of Birmingham,” Randall refers to the infamous Alabama incident in which four girls were killed by a bomb blast set by white terrorists in Martin Luther King Jr.'s church. Randall's poem features a girl whose mother forbids her to attend a rally; fearing for her daughter's safety, she encourages the girl to attend church instead, where the youngster is killed by the bombing. Folk singer Jerry Moore was later given Randall's permission to set the lyrics of “Ballad of Birmingham” to music. Another poem, “Dressed all in Pink,” refers to the outfit worn by Jackie Kennedy at the time of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, and was also set to music. In “Booker T. and W. E. B.” Randall creates a fictional dialogue between the two black leaders, a dialogue which ultimately favors Du Bois's views. Black Poetry is a unique publication due to the fact that it includes the work of both established black poets and writers who were younger, up-and-coming black poets in 1969. The poems of Cities Burning focus on three main areas: the role of the individual in the civil rights movement, Randall's theory of art, and the generation gap between older and younger poets. In the poem “The Profile on the Pillow,” set in the context of the race riots of the 1960s, the narrator, through the image of his lover's silhouette on a pillow, symbolically illustrates the poet's own relationship to the surrounding society. More to Remember is a collection of poems written by Randall from the 1930s to the 1970s, and displays his breadth of form and theme. In After the Killing, Randall's style and voice echo that of a younger generation of poets. The collection, A Litany of Friends, is comprised of both previously published and new poems, demonstrating the skill and extent of Randall's technical abilities.
As a poet and publisher, Randall helped revitalize black poetry in America. The several anthologies of black poetry edited by Randall are critically well received, and brought attention to young black literary talent, as well as honoring the established black poets. Critics also note that Randall maintains literary roots in both European and African-American traditions. He admired the traditional French “ballade,” a poetic form into which he incorporated themes relevant to the African-American experience. R. Baxter Miller writes, “Exploring racial and historical themes, introspective and self-critical, [Randall’s] work combines ideas and forms from Western traditional poetry as well as from the Harlem Renaissance movement.” The anthology For Malcolm is noted for underscoring the significance of memorializing cultural heroes in works of art. Reviewers praiseBlack Poetry for bringing attention to the difficulties that black poets had breaking into the mainstream of the publishing industry during the 1960s and 1970s. Critics also recognize Randall's import as a promoter of poets as social commentators and critics, as evidenced in such poems as the “Ballad of Birmingham” and “The Silhouette on the Pillow.” In his review of After the Killing, Frank Marshall Davis declares, “Dudley Randall again offers visual proof of why he should be ranked in the front echelon of Black poets.”