Dudley Randall and Broadside Press: 'Overlooked No More' by The New York Times

Since 1851, many remarkable black men and women did not receive obituaries in The New York Times. This month, with Overlooked, we’re adding their stories to our archives. – New York Times, 13 February 2019

As part of Black History Month, under the headline Overlooked No More: Dudley Randall, Whose Broadside Press Gave a Voice to Black Poets, Morgan Jerkins writes a belated ‘obituary’ of Dudley Randall (1914-2000), “a poet and librarian, (who) started the press out of his home, eventually publishing the work of about 200 writers amid Detroit’s flowering Black Arts  Movement.”

Randall started publishing single-sheet ‘broadsides’, beginning in 1965 with his own Ballad of Birmingham (on the killing of four little black girls in the bombing of a black church), ‘firing off’ more than ninety broadsides as editor and publisher of Broadside Press 1965-1977 and 1980-1985.

Broadside Press went on to publish a bonanza of black poetry chapbooks. Pulitzer prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks left Harper and Row to publish with Dudley Randall, and there were other older poets at Broadside Press. But the press was especially crucial as a launching pad for young poets like Nikki Giovanni, Don L. Lee (Haki R. Madhubuti), Etheridge Knight, and Sonia Sanchez, most of whom went on to publish at more mainstream publishing houses, all stars of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and beyond, and all – except Etheridge Knight – still with us today.

Dudley Randall had been writing for years before publishing his first book of poems, Poem Counterpoem (co-written with Margaret Danner, 1966), and his 1971 collection More to Remember is subtitled Poems of Four Decades. Other titles are Cities Burning (1968), Love You (1970), After the Killing (1973) and A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems (1981).

Randall’s effective use of irony is demonstrated in a poem like Booker T. and W. E. B. on the debate around the turn of the century between the great educator Booker T. Washington and the foremost black intellectual of his day, W. E. B. DuBois, on the merits of civil rights and higher education. It begins: “It seems to me,” said Booker T.,/ “It shows a mighty lot of cheek / To study chemistry and Greek/ When Mister Charlie needs a hand/ To hoe the cotton on his land,/ And when Miss Ann looks for a cook,/ Why stick your nose inside a book?”// “I don’t agree,” said W. E. B./...

Dudley Randall edited For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X (with fellow poet Margaret Burroughs, 1967), and Homage to Hoyt Fuller (1984), the editor of Chicago-based Black World. Jerkins mentions Dudley’s 48-page pamphlet Black Poetry: A Supplement to Anthologies Which Exclude Black Poets (1969), but fails to mention the more important and comprehensive The Black Poets (Bantam Books, 1971), still in print, and Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall (2009), edited by Randall biographer Melba Joyce Boyd.

In 2015 Broadside Press merged with poet Naomi Long Madgett’s Lotus Press (1972-), another Detroit institution, to become Broadside Lotus Press, with plans of building a digitalized archive of books published over fifty years by the two presses, many of them long since out of print.