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Overlooked No More: Dudley Randall, Whose Broadside Press Gave a Voice to Black Poets

Category: Art & Culture,Books

It was while he was working as a librarian at the Wayne County Federated Library System that Randall started Broadside Press. He toiled during his lunch breaks and after work. The labor was overwhelming but provided little money. Print runs were usually 5,000 to start and there was often demand for more.

He would eventually be forced to slow down; in 1972 he had a heart attack that left him incapacitated for weeks.

By the time Broadside Press was sold in 1977 to the Alexander Crummell Memorial Center, a church in Detroit, it was $30,000 in debt, and had placed financial strain on Randall and his wife, Vivian. He regained ownership in the early 1980s, but in 1985, he sold the press again, this time to Hilda Vest, a poet, and her husband, Don, a businessman and activist.

He died from congestive heart failure on Aug. 5, 2000. He was 86.

Today the press operates as Broadside Lotus Press after merging with a press founded by Naomi Long Madgett, who became Detroit’s poet laureate in 2001.

In his career, Randall published several poetry collections of his own, such as “Cities Burning” (1968), “More to Remember” (1971) and “After the Killing” (1973), and edited anthologies, such as “For Malcolm: Poems on the Life and the Death of Malcolm X” (1967) and “Black Poetry: A Supplement to Anthologies Which Exclude Black Poets” (1969). In 1981, he was named the poet laureate of Detroit.

But he was particularly proud of the work of other poets, whose voices he helped amplify.

As he said in “Broadside Memories,” a book of poems that he published in 1975: “My strongest motivations have been to get good black poets published, to produce beautiful books, help create and define the soul of black folk, and to know the joy of discovering new poets.”

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