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Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press.

Wrestling With the Muse: Dudley by Melba Joyce Boyd Columbia University Press, February 2004 $29.50, ISBN 0-231-13026-0

From 1966 to 1975, Broadside Press published 81 books and was the most widely known independent, African American publisher in the U.S. Many poets of the Black Arts Movement published their first volumes with Broadside, including Nikki Giovanni and Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee).

Broadside's founder, Dudley Randall, was a quiet man with a humble vision of himself. Perhaps this illuminates why, despite his profound accomplishments, he has always seemed a bit inconspicuous. This book incorporates a great deal of writing from Randall's unfinished autobiography, which he placed in Boyd's care before he died. Often, Boyd interjects with a first-hand perspective on the man, earned through a long friendship that began with her work as Randall's apprentice and editor.

Through Randall's own accounts and Boyd's anecdotal history, Boyd represents Randall as a poet first and a publisher second. She documents how Randall wrote continuously through Broadside's emergence, but ironically, as Broadside gained worldwide recognition, Randall's poetry was often dismissed as being out of step with the times by younger writers who were gaining prominence, in part, as a result of his work as a publisher. When Broadside became a literary institution, it brought Randall acclaim but not as a poet. Insecurities about his writing, the demands of a full-time job as a university librarian and occasional bouts of deep depression left him unwilling to self-promote.

In addition to providing insight about key artistic figures during Broadside's heyday, Boyd offers a careful analysis of Randall's poetry, attempting to situate his in, pulses and aesthetics alongside those of his better-known contemporaries such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Danner and Robert Hayden. The book even includes some of Randall's later work that went unpublished due to its sexually suggestive nature. Wrestling with the Muse also gives brief accounts of other noteworthy personalities that were extremely influential during the Black Arts Movement including Sonia Sanchez and Etheridge Knight.

Wrestling with the Muse places the accomplishments of Randall and Broadside Press in a larger context of the cultural evolution of Detroit. It also interrogates genre as Randall did, inviting us to reconsider what black poetry is--and what about Broadside's poetry was black.

Wendy S. Walters is assistant professor of English at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
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Author:Walters, Wendy S.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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