Dudley Randall Analysis

The New Black Poetry

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dudley Randall, highly respected by several generations of African American writers, occupies a central position in the development of the “New Black Poetry.” As the founder of Broadside Press, Randall contributed an indispensable impetus to the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. His poetry, written over a period of more than six decades, exhibits a wide range of influences, techniques, and subject matters.

Randall started writing poetry seriously when he was in high school, where he learned prosody from his teacher and from Henry Wells’s Poetic Imagery Illustrated from Elizabethan Literature (1924). At age thirteen, he submitted a sonnet to a poetry contest run by the Detroit Free Press and won the first prize. Thanks to his father, a minister active in the political campaigns of African Americans, Randall spent his formative years in an environment associated with intellectual and literary figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson. Well read in the writings of black authors of the time, Randall was thus informed by the Harlem Renaissance, which had just come to an end when he was graduated from high school during the Great Depression. His childhood experience is captured in autobiographical poems such as “Vacant Lot” and “Laughter in the Slums.”

After graduation, Randall became a foundry worker at Ford Motor Company. The poem “George,” a tribute to a coworker and lifelong...

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Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Despite his primary interest in poetry, Dudley Randall wrote short stories, articles, and reviews. In the mid-1960’s, he founded the Broadside Press, which thereafter consumed much of his energy, as he began to direct most of his writing toward poetry and critical articles. For the Broadside Press, he edited, with Margaret G. Burroughs, For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X (1967), the press’s second publication. His introductory essay succinctly foreshadowed the influence that Malcolm X was to have on many of the newly emerging black poets of the 1960’s; it also helped to introduce many of the contributors to readers of black literature.

In 1969, aware that many existing anthologies excluded or gave only limited representation to black poets, Randall edited and published Black Poetry: A Supplement to Anthologies Which Exclude Black Poets, which brought such omissions to the attention of larger publishing houses in the country. By 1971, a number of anthologies of African American poetry were in circulation, but many of them were seriously flawed by too-narrow criteria for selection. Randall’s The Black Poets (1971) enjoyed wide distribution in an inexpensive paperback format and corrected many of the deficiencies of previous black poetry anthologies. Presenting a full range of African American poetry from folklore and spirituals to the Black Nationalist poets of the late 1960’s, the anthology offered a substantial selection from each of its contributors and stressed the...

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Broadside Press

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

His life having stabilized in an academic setting, the tempo of Randall’s literary activities quickened during the Civil Rights movement era. In 1963, the racially motivated bombing of a church in Birmingham and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy led Randall to write “Ballad of Birmingham” (1965) and “Dressed All in Pink” (1965, revised 1967). The two poems, later set to music by Jerry Moore, not only spread Randall’s reputation but also inspired him to found the Broadside Press in 1965 in order to put poetry, in the form of attractive “broadsides,” into the African American household inexpensively. This treatment of poetry as a communal rather than a business enterprise brought Randall into alliance and fellowship with Margaret Danner (founder of Boone House, a black arts center) and Hoyt Fuller (editor of Black World), as well as with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Gwendolyn Brooks.

In less than a decade, as evident from Randall’s Broadside Memories: Poets I Have Known (1975) and Broadside Treasures (1975; an anthology edited by Brooks at Randall’s request), a community of writers had grown around the Broadside Press to fill an honor roll of African American poets now familiar to readers. In addition to the works of Danner, Brooks, and Randall, the press has featured broadsides, posters, books, and audio recordings by Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Robert Hayden, Haki R. Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, Marvin X, Etheridge Knight, Margaret Walker, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Stephany, and numerous others. Among this group, not a few younger writers have become published thanks to Randall’s generous encouragement and assistance; in return, these writers have also offered him and one another an invaluable sense of community, fellowship, and friendship at a time when a system of mutual support was essential to the survival and development of African American literature. For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X (1967), an anthology that Randall coedited with Margaret Burroughs to commemorate the Black Muslim leader assassinated in 1965, could be regarded as a rally in that direction.

Realizing that black poets had been suffering from a long history of exclusion by white publishers, Randall ventured further to edit and publish Black Poetry: A Supplement to Anthologies Which Exclude Black Poets (1969). This effort to find a forum for black poets and to assert their place in American literature culminated in The Black Poets (1971), a comprehensive anthology that Randall edited...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Beyond his own poetry, it is as an editor and publisher that Dudley Randall’s literary talents have been most significant. Randall’s principal literary accomplishment is the founding of Broadside Press in September, 1965. With an initial investment of twelve dollars, he began by issuing a run of one broadside (a poem printed on a single sheet). These inexpensive broadsides could be folded and carried to be read on lunch breaks, on buses, or virtually anytime, anywhere. They could also be posted just about anywhere as well; thus, Randall’s idea succeeded in bringing poetry to the ordinary citizens of the community: The venture was more educational than commercial. (This idea has since been imitated by small presses all over the country.) Within a few years, Broadside was publishing anthologies, volumes by new poets, criticism, and recordings. By example, other black writers also began to establish independent presses that specialized in reaching the black community with inexpensive editions of poetry, most notably Haki R. Madhubuti’s Third World Press. One can fairly credit Randall, then, as one of the most influential black publishers of his time: His refusal to place commercial interests ahead of literary education has helped to inform a whole generation of the richness and diversity of black poetic traditions. In doing so, he has introduced new African American writers, and he has fostered an awareness of the reciprocity between black writers in the United...

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A Distinctive African American Voice

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As a poet, Randall is particularly known for his treatment of cultural and political issues such as African American heritage, racial conflicts, the civil rights struggle, urban realities in America, and life in the modern age. Many of these concerns are already evident in early poems such as 1948’s “Roses and Revolutions.” During a meditation, the prophetic persona in this poem enters into two apocalyptic visions of the entire continent. The first concerns the reality of urban America in the modern era, a world of darkness where millions of people suffering from pain, alienation, violence, racism, and other social ills regret life and cry for death. In the second vision, he sees an enlightened world in which “the bombs and...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Boyd, Melba Joyce. Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Boyd, a former friend and colleague of Randall, presents an affectionate authorized biography.

Chow, Balance. “The Poetry of Dudley Randall.” In Masterplots II: African American Literature, edited by Tyrone Williams. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2009. Presents an analysis of his poetry and an examination of his role at Broadside Press.

Melhem, D. H. “Dudley Randall: A Humanist View.” Black American Literature Forum 17 (1983). This excellent article surveys Randall’s poetry and includes a biographical overview of his life and career and brief analyses of significant poems. Melhem stresses that Randall is a humanist, a label the poet himself accepts. Includes notes that are somewhat useful in finding other sources on Randall, especially general surveys and interviews.

Miller, R. Baxter, ed. Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986. Clearly discusses Randall’s life and poetry.

Randall, Dudley. “Black Publisher, Black Writer: An Answer.” Black World 24 (March, 1975). Records Randall’s own reflections about the world of black publishing houses and the pros and cons...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Boyd, Melba Joyce. Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Lengthy study of Randall and his publishing company.

Melhem, D. H. “Dudley Randall: The Poet as Humanist.” In Heroism in the New Black Poetry: Introductions and Interviews. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. An article that includes an interview with Randall conducted in 1980 that contains critical insights from the interviewer. The most important study of Randall as a humanist.

Miller, R. Baxter. “’Endowing the World and Time’: The Life and Work of Dudley...

(The entire section is 221 words.)