New Hall of Fame Honors Writers of African Descent

Article excerpt

LIBRARIAN AND BROADSIDE PRESS FOUNDER DUDLEY RANDALL IS AMONG FIRST 39 INDUCTEES

When we worked together at the University of Detroit, Dudley Randall was the complete professional librarian," remembers former coworker Joan Gartland, now in the Art and Literature Department of the Detroit Public Library. "He was also poet-in-residence at the time, but he would be on the reference desk like everybody else, and then he would take his lunch hour and get in his car and rush off to Broadside Press, do what he had to do, and rush back. The energy he had, and the concentration - and he was so wonderfully modest about all of it."

Randall, now 85 and 22 years retired from library work, still lives in the Detroit home on Old Mill Place that served as headquarters for a small press that became a major player in the Civil Rights Movement by giving more than 300 African-American writers and artists an outlet for their work and a platform for their calls for equality and black identity.

Last October, Randall became one of 39 initial inductees into the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. Tucked into a quiet corner in Chicago State University's Douglas Library, the Hall of Fame is the brainchild of Path Press publisher Bennett Johnson and CSU English Department professors B. J. Bolden and Haki Madhubuti, whose 1969 book of poems Don't Cry, Scream (under the name Don L. Lee) sold more than 200,000 copies for Broadside Press.

The press and the pride

"Dudley Randall really made his name for most of us in the '60s when he was the publisher who opened up publishing to black writers," Bolden said. "He is best known for editing the milestone anthology The Black Poets [Bantam, 1971] but he also published broadsides and small books that the poets sold on street corners to get recognition and keep publishing. He paved a literary path for black writers in the '60s and '70s. It was the literary confrontation of the time."

In his book of poems Cities Burning, Randall wrote, "A critic advises/not to write on controversial subjects/like freedom or murder/out to treat universal themes/and timeless symbols/like the white unicorn./A white unicorn?" Beneath Randall's modesty, there was anger over the racial injustice and exclusion he'd seen in his lifetime, and he felt compelled to nurture the younger generation of writers who were ready to express, not sublimate, their rage. Broadside poets exploded with "black pride" at a time when American publishing giants were oblivious to the subject. He once said he started the press "so black poets could speak to and for their people."

Between 1965 and 1976, Randall also published poetry by Margaret Walker Alexander, Toni Cade Bambara Amiri Baraka, Lerone Bennett Jr., Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, Lucille Clifton, Margaret Danner, Marl Evans, Hoyt Fuller, Zack Gilbert, Nikki Giovanni, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Etheridge Knight, Andre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Jean Toomer, and John A. Williams, all of whom were also inducted into the Hall of Fame at the founding ceremony last October 16 during the eighth annual Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Conference. Ten of the 14 living inductees attended the event: Brooks, Bennett, Baraka, Clifton, Evans, Giovanni, Madhubuti, Williams, playwright August Wilson, and Thulani Davis, best known for her recent work as librettist for the opera Amistad.

Randall, who received his library degree from the University of Michigan in 1951, told American Libraries that he was too ill to join them or to submit to a lengthy interview but said he wanted it to be known that "it's a great honor for me to be included."

"Some of my poems came out of my library experience," Randall once said of his work at the Eloise Hospital Library and the Wayne County system in Detroit in the late '50s. He had also worked as a reference librarian, cataloger, and instructor in the library science program at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and as a technical and public services librarian at Morgan State College (now University) in Baltimore. …