Cover image for Wrestling with the muse : Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press
Wrestling with the muse : Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press
Boyd, Melba Joyce.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 385 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3568.A49 Z58 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3568.A49 Z58 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



And as I groped in darkness

and felt the pain of millions,

gradually, like day driving night across the continent,

I saw dawn upon them like the sun a vision.

--Dudley Randall, from "Roses and Revolutions"

In 1963, the African American poet Dudley Randall (1914-2000) wrote "The Ballad of Birmingham" in response to the bombing of a church in Alabama that killed four young black girls, and "Dressed All in Pink," about the assassination of President Kennedy. When both were set to music by folk singer Jerry Moore in 1965, Randall published them as broadsides. Thus was born the Broadside Press, whose popular chapbooks opened the canon of American literature to the works of African American writers.

Dudley Randall, one of the great success stories of American small-press history, was also poet laureate of Detroit, a civil-rights activist, and a force in the Black Arts Movement. Melba Joyce Boyd was an editor at Broadside, was Randall's friend and colleague for twenty-eight years, and became his authorized biographer. Her book is an account of the interconnections between urban and labor politics in Detroit and the broader struggles of black America before and during the Civil Rights era. But also, through Randall's poetry and sixteen years of interviews, the narrative is a multipart dialogue between poets, Randall, the author, and the history of American letters itself, and it affords unique insights into the life and work of this crucial figure.

Author Notes

Melba Joyce Boyd is professor of Africana studies at Wayne State University and adjunct professor at the Center for Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Boyd (Wayne State Univ.) provides an intimate and critical examination of the career of poet and publisher Dudley Randall along with a valuable study of many of the personal, political, and institutional bases of mid-20th-century African American poetry. Thanks to the historical span (from the twilight of the "new negro" era through the fireworks of the black arts movement) and the range of Randall's contributions (as poet, critic, publisher, and editor), Boyd's book proves interesting on several levels. As a history of Randall's Broadside Press (for which Boyd served as Randall's assistant editor from 1972 to 1977), it examines the intersection of cultural politics and editorial practice that occurred at one of the critical institutional sites of the black arts movement. As a record of one writer's commitment to his art and his community (Randall claimed as muse his hometown of Detroit), the book portrays Randall's poetry and publishing as they engage with Motown's tumultuous history of race and labor politics. Not least, Boyd traces the development of Randall's poetry and provides carefully contextualized readings of individual poems. A significant contribution to studies of post-WW II American culture and a compelling read. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. M. W. Lessig SUNY College at Cortland

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Wrestling with the Muse
1 Beginnings and Endings
2 The Fertile Black Bottom of Paradise Valley
3 Poets of Black Bottom: Dudley Randall Meets Robert Hayden
4 War at Home and Abroad
5 The Return: Poetry and Prophecy
6 Sojourn and Return
7 The Emergence of the Second Renaissance in Detroit
8 "Ballad of Birmingham": The Founding of Broadside Press and the Black Arts Movement
9 "Ya Vas Lyubil": Alexander Pushkin, Dudley Randall, and the Black Russian Connection
10 Cultural Wars and Civil Wars
11 "Prophets for a New Day": Diversity and Heritage
12 The New Black Poets
13 Dudley Randall's Poetic Dialectics and the Black Arts Movement
14 "After the Killing": Dudley Randall's Black Arts Poetry
15 Poetry as Industry
16 "Shape of the Invisible": The Rise and Fall of Broadside Press
17 "In the Mourning Time": The Return
18 A Poet Is Not A Jukebox
19 At Peace with the Muse
20 "The Ascent"
Appendix I Translating Poetry Into Film
Appendix II Worksheets for "Frederick Douglass and the Slave Breaker"