Dudley Randall Randall, Dudley (Vol. 135) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Poem Counterpoem [with Margaret Danner] (poetry) 1966

For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X [editor] (poetry) 1967

Cities Burning (poetry) 1968

Black Poetry: A Supplement to Anthologies Which Exclude Black Poets [editor] (poetry) 1969

Love You (poetry) 1970

The Black Poets [editor] (poetry) 1971

More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades (poetry) 1971

After the Killing (poetry) 1973

Broadside Memories: Poets I Have Known (nonfiction and poetry) 1975

A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems (poetry) 1981

Homage to Hoyt Fuller (poetry) 1984

Golden Song: The Fiftieth Anniversary Anthology of the Poetry Society of Michigan, 1935–1985 [coeditor with Louis J. Cantoni] (poetry) 1985

Dudley Randall (essay date 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Broadside Press: A Personal Chronicle,” in The Black Seventies, edited by Floyd B. Barbour, Porter Sargent Publisher, 1970, pp. 139-48.

[In the following essay, Randall offers a history of Broadside Press, including a description of its early years, its philosophy and business structure, and its significant publications. Randall further states his concern for the need of more small black presses that specialize in the genres of the essay, drama, and reference.]

Broadside Press did not grow from a blueprint. I did not, like Joe Goncalves when he planned the Journal of Black Poetry, save money in advance to finance the press. Broadside Press began...

(The entire section is 3633 words.)

Reference Quarterly (review date Winter 1971)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Reference Quarterly (review date Winter 1971)

SOURCE: A review of More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades, in Reference Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 2, Winter, 1971, p. 179.

[In the following review of More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades, the critic praises Randall's collection as an accomplished expression of black identity.]

Black poetry is fast becoming itself with the work of poets like Dudley Randall, such as his collection More to Remember. Accomplished and capable, he excels in the art of his blackness. Lines like “Lovers and kisses, cruel, careless, light, / Will you remember down the long, deep night?”...

(The entire section is 208 words.)

Dudley Randall with Black Books Bulletin (interview date Winter 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Dudley Randall with Black Books Bulletin (interview date Winter 1972)

SOURCE: “Interviews: Dudley Randall,” in Black Books Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2, Winter, 1972, pp. 23-6.

[In the following interview, Randall discusses the influence the Harlem Renaissance poets had on his own work, explains his goals and philosophy as a publisher of black poetry, and talks of his aim to promote black literature and black consciousness.]

Dudley Randall was born January 14, 1914 in Washington, D.C. He studied in the public schools of Washington, D.C., East St. Louis, and Detroit. In 1949, he received a B.A. degree from Wayne State University and in 1951...

(The entire section is 2946 words.)

Patricia Gow (review date 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Anthology in Tribute to Malcolm,” in Freedomways, Vol. 13, No. 2, Second Quarter, 1973, pp. 167-168.

[In the following review of For Malcolm X, Gow praises anthologies of its type for paying tribute to important figures in black history.]

He fell upon his face before
Allah the raceless in whose blazing Oneness all
Were one. He rose, renewed, renamed, became
much more than there was time for him to be.

“Labbayk! Labbayk!,” Robert Hayden

The prose additions to this collection [For Malcolm X] are almost as interesting as the poems themselves. The book begins with a six-page biography of...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Dudley Randall (essay date February 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Black Emotion and Experience: The Literature of Understanding,” in American Libraries, Vol. 4, No. 2, February, 1973, pp. 86-90.

[In the following essay, Randall sketches the history of African-American poetry and literature, highlighting key authors, important works, and literary movements such as the Harlem Renaissance and the wellspring of black literature in the 1960s, which is often called a “new” Harlem Renaissance.]

In 1970 I took movies of black American students coming out of the dungeons of the former slave castle in Elmina, Ghana. The tour of the castle was a profoundly moving experience for us. Probably all of us thought, “Long ago our...

(The entire section is 4213 words.)

Nick Aaron Ford (review date April 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Black Poets, in College English, Vol. 34, No. 7, April, 1973, p. 1006.

[In the following excerpt, Ford praises The Black Poets for including in depth the work of forty–five poets, and describes Randall's introduction to the anthology as “illuminating.”]

Dudley Randall, outstanding black poet, visiting professor of Black Poetry at the University of Michigan, and director of the Broadside Press, is the editor of The Black Poets (1971). This anthology “presents the full range of black American poetry, from the slave songs to the present day.” Furthermore, the editor's claim that it presents most of the forty-five...

(The entire section is 205 words.)

Dudley Randall with Gwendolyn Fowlkes (interview date June 1975)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Interview with Dudley Randall,” in The Black Scholar, Vol. 6, No. 9, June, 1975, pp. 87-90.

[In the following interview, Randall and Fowlkes discuss the process of creating poems such as “The Southern Road,”“The Profile on the Pillow,” and “Frederick Douglas and the Slavemaker.”]

On December 10, 1974 I interviewed Mr. Dudley Randall. Mr. Randall had been with us at our school for a week. I felt this was a good opportunity to get to know a famous person. Mr. Randall has edited three anthologies: For Malcolm, Black Poetry, and The Black Poets. He has published five books of poetry. His latest book is After the Killing....

(The entire section is 1904 words.)

R. Baxter Miller (essay date 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Endowing the World and Time’: The Life and Work of Dudley Randall,” in Tennessee Studies in Literature, Vol. 30, 1986, pp. 77-92.

[In the following excerpt, Miller profiles Randall's poetry and comments on Randall's contributions towards the promotion of black writing.]

Dudley Randall, poet, librarian, and publisher, is one of the most important Black men of letters in the twentieth century. A child during the Harlem Renaissance, he was himself a leading poet of the subsequent generation of Black writers, and he later became a pioneer of the Black literary movement of the 1960s. His own work, so accomplished technically and profoundly concerned with...

(The entire section is 5478 words.)

D. H. Melhem (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dudley Randall: The Poet as Humanist,” in Heroism in the New Black Poetry: Introductions and Interviews, The University Press of Kentucky, 1990, pp. 41-60.

[In the following essay, Melhem discusses Randall's poetry and involvement with Broadside Press. A slightly different version of this essay appeared in Black American Literature Forum in 1983 under the title “Dudley Randall: A Humanist View.”]

“I never thought of myself as a leader,” says Dudley Randall in his soft, vibrant voice. Yet the historical impact of Broadside Press, begun in Detroit in 1965 “without capital, from the twelve dollars I took out of my paycheck to pay for the...

(The entire section is 6943 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Amini, Johari. Review of Black Poetry. Negro Digest XIX, No. 1 (November, 1969): 87-89.

Praises Black Poetry for including new as well as already published poems.

Barbour, Floyd B., ed. The Black Seventies. Boston: Porter Sargent Publisher, 1970.

Collection of essays by leading black authors.

Blum, Howard. “In Detroit, A Poet's Work Is Never Done.” New York Times, (January 30, 1984): A8.

Randall discusses his appointment as Poet Laureate of Detroit.

Davis, Frank Marshall. Review of After the Killing. Black...

(The entire section is 262 words.)