Celebrating Detroit’s Dudley Randall, poet and publisher
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
Detroit’s current poet laureate, Dr. Naomi Long Madgett, will join other Detroit literati in celebrating the centennial birthday of Detroit’s first poet laureate, Dudley Randall, on Jan. 12 at the University of Detroit Mercy in the McNichols Campus Library. Randall was not only an accomplished poet, he became an incredibly significant publisher, founding the Broadside Press in Detroit in 1965.
Although Randall passed away in August 2000, Broadside Press still publishes poetry. Dr. Gloria House, a poet, a scholar and a collaborator of Randall’s, serves on Broadside’s board. She moved to Detroit from California in 1967. At the time, she recalled: “Detroit was something of a Mecca for poetry in particular.
“Primarily because of Broadside Press and Dudley Randall’s work, Detroit became a center of Black poetry because he was putting out all of the most prolific Black poets of the time. Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni were published first by Dudley Randall before mainstream publishing houses picked them up. In fact, they couldn’t get published by the mainstream publishing houses until those editors saw ‘oh hey, there’s a market for poetry written by African Americans.’”
Only after noting Broadside’s success did major collections by Giovanni, Sanchez and Lorde appear in mainstream print, House says. “Broadside was founded in 65 and you could say it was the repository for all the political ideas, the aesthetic concerns, that big cauldron of intellectual activity going on that we call the Black Consciousness period. The poets involved in that movement were sending their work to Broadside and Dudley was getting it out, making it available.”
Professionally, Randall was a reference librarian, which allowed him the opportunity to devour books and correspond nationally and internationally with other thinkers. “He published this extraordinarily wide spectrum of writers,” remarked House. “People coming at it from very different points of view, and he was really quite remarkable in that sense. He didn’t insist that everybody have the same aesthetics or the same politics…”
The event on the 12th is only one part in a yearlong series of events celebrating the centennial of both Randall and his friend and peer, Detroit poet Robert Hayden.
At this month’s event, House will read some of Randall’s poetry, which she hopes will demonstrate why Coleman Young appointed him the first poet laureate in the city of Detroit. Dr. Naomi Madgett will discuss Randall’s life and there will also be poetry readings by Albert M. Ward, Broadside Press Poet and Board Member; Ms. Lori E. Allan and Deonte Osayande, winners of the UDM Dudley Randall Poetry Contest. On sale at the event will be “A Different Image,” and anthology of poems/poets published by the Broadside Press.
Dr. Rosemary Weatherston is the director of the Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture at the University of Detroit Mercy, which operates an electronic publishing classroom and is home to the UDM Press, which partners with other Detroit area presses to publish original scholarly research, multimedia projects, and creative works. Weatherston is also one of the co-ordinators of the Hayden/Randall Centennial events.
“Dudley Randall saw the written word as a living art form intimately connected to community and to self-determination; and he saw publishing as a vehicle for building relationships and for promoting cultural critique,” said Weatherston. “I think in today’s media landscape — where we are more likely to be quick consumers and producers of disposable communications — we can lose sight of how our words can be used for justice as well as entertainment. I think Mr. Randall’s and Broadside Press’ simultaneous commitment to publishing great works of art and to creating a greater good can continue to inspire readers and writers today.
Happy Birthday, Dudley Randall! will take place Jan. 12 from 3-5 p.m. at theMcNichols Campus Library, University of Detroit Mercy (4001 W. McNichols Rd., Detroit). For more information on the Broadside Press, their books and their monthly workshops, visit broadsidepress.org, and to learn more about the next events in the Robert Hayden and Dudley Randall Centennial Series, visit www.marygrove.edu/academics/institutes/institute-for- detroit-studies/overview/item/robert-hayden-and-dudley-randall-centennial-calendar.html