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University of Michigan School of Information


New York Times recognizes the contributions of UMSI Distinguished Alumnus Dudley Randall

Wednesday, 02/13/2019

The New York Times’ “Overlooked” feature is a history project that tells the stories of remarkable individuals – notably women or people of color – who have been “overlooked” by the newspaper’s obituary writers through the decades. In February, poet, publisher, librarian and UMSI alumnus Dudley Randall (AMLS ’51) received some well-deserved national recognition from the New York Times

Dudley Randall was born in 1914 in Washington, D.C., and his family settled in Detroit in 1920. His first published poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press when he was 13. After graduating from high school, he worked first at the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge plant and then as a postal worker. Following World War II, he attended Wayne [State] University, graduating with a degree in English in 1949. He then enrolled in the University of Michigan’s library science program, receiving his master’s degree in library science in 1951. 

While working as a librarian for the Wayne County Federate Library System, he founded Broadside Press in 1965 with the goal of “getting good black poets published.” Initially, though, Randall started the press to protect the rights to his poem “Ballad of Birmingham,” which had been adapted into a folk song by Jerry Moore. 

The Dictionary of Midwestern Literature calls Randall “the most influential publisher of new voices in black American poetry beginning in 1965 and ending in the mid-1980s. His achievement in terms of Midwestern literature can be seen in his ability to discover and publish a vast array of black authors during this period… to give voice to those writers who had no other outlet.” 

Among the poets published for the first time by Broadside Press were Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Etheridge Knight and Audre Lord; he also published established authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, LeRoi Jones, Alice Walker and Robert Hayden.

Photo credit: Bentley Historical Library, Yancy Hughes, Job Trotter Foto, Detroit, MI
Photo credit: Bentley Historical Library, Yancy Hughes, Job Trotter Foto, Detroit, MI

Randall was a poet in his own right, and published several volumes of poetry. His best-known poems include “The Ballad of Birmingham” and “Booker T. and W.E.B.” In 1981, Mayor Coleman Young named him Detroit’s Poet Laureate. 

Among his many awards and honors are a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, an honorary doctorate from Wayne State University and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Michigan School of Library Science in 1987. Following his death in 2000, the University of Detroit Mercy Library, where he worked as librarian and poet-in-residence in the 1970s, was deemed a National Literary Landmark by Friends of the Library of Congress. 

- UMSI News Service