Wrestling with the Muse

Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press

Melba Joyce Boyd

Columbia University Press

Wrestling with the Muse

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Pub Date: January 2004

ISBN: 9780231130264

368 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£50.00

Pub Date: January 2004

ISBN: 9780231503648

368 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£50.00

Wrestling with the Muse

Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press

Melba Joyce Boyd

Columbia University Press

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.

WhileWrestling with the Muse is clearly an homage [to Dudley Randall], it doesn't slip into sentimentality or fluff.

Detroit Free Press

As his one-time assistant editor and literary executor, poet and professor Melba Joyce Boyd is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Detroit's late poet laureate.

Detroit Metro Times

This is an imaginative work illuminating the life and influence of African American poet and publisher Dudley Randall.

Anne Martino, The Ann Arbor News

Boyd has penned this definitive biography and celebration of [Randall's] poetry.

College and Research Libraries News

Boyd celebrates the life and times of African-American poet Dudley Randall in Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press.... Boyd's sensitive portrait introduces us to a colleague many of us never had the opportunity to know.

American Libraries

[Wrestling with the Muse]... is a memoir within a memoir capturing not only the life of Randall, one of the greatest success stories in American small press history, but also the history of a turbulent century rife with racial injustice and discrimination.

Ebony Magazine

Boyd provides an intimate and critical examination...along with a valuable study of many of the personal, politcal, and institutional bases of mid-20th-century African American Poetry...Highly recommended.


her book is an engaging and important contribution.. taking its place alongside the autobiographies of Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka and too few others

W. Kim Heron, Metro Times Detroit

Muse integrates aesthetics and politics with the vividness of an eyewitness and the conscience of a good journalist.

Kim D. Hunter, Against the Current

This is an indispensable book for anyone interested in American intellectual and cultural history during the second half of the twentieth century, as it recalls the work of an accomplished poet largely missing from contemporary anthologies and convincingly recounts the development and impact of a crucial cultural institution of the black arts-black power era.

James Edward Smethurst, University of Massachusetts, Journal of American History

Boyd brings the very challenging art of biography into the twenty-first century with an impressive balance of creative distance, courage, ingenuity, and refreshing honesty. Not only is Melba Boyd's writing style at once sophisticated and totally accessible, but her impressively scholarly biography illuminates Dudley Randall as a Black cultural leader who was successful at his goal of "retrieving African-American poetry." Wrestling with the Muse emerges as an invaluable contribution to American letters that all students and scholars of African-American poetry must read if they are to understand the forces behind the complexity and productivity of Black poetry between 1965 and the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Joyce Joyce, Temple University, author of Ijala: Sonia Sanchez and the African Poetic Tradition

Melba Boyd's biography is a richly creative exploration of Dudley Randall's remarkable life as poet and cultural visionary. In addition, it casts invaluable light on the controversial times in which he was one of the most important leaders and doers in the African-American world and beyond. This is a brilliant addition to the literature of the 1960 and 1970s in particular, and must be read by anyone seriously interested in understanding those turbulent years from an African-American perspective.

Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University, author of The Life of Langston Hughes and The Art and Imagination of W. E. B. DuBois

Dudley Randall is perhaps one of the most underrated and underappreciated figures in twentieth-century American and African American letters. Not any longer. With the publication of Wrestling With The Muse we are finally given a critical assessment of Randall's tremendous work as writer and publisher, and also a captivating biography and history of his life and times. Melba Joyce Boyd, herself one of the unsung heroines of literary and historical scholarship, and a talented poet in her own right, has fashioned a book that is meticulously researched, brilliantly written, and certain to be regarded as a living, breathing monument to the genius that was Dudley Randall.

Kevin Powell, author of Who's Gonna Take the Weight? Manhood, Race, and Power in America

Dr. Boyd achieves an honest, insightful, and penetrating study of the Black Arts Movement by focusing on the full and colorful life of Dudley Randall—whose Broadside Press literally took poetry to the people. Her thorough research, careful judgment, and clarity of expression make Wrestling with the Muse a book that will please literary scholars and general readers as well

Lorenzo Thomas, University of Houston, author of Extraordinary Measures

Wrestling with the Muse is so much more than the meticulously researched biography of an African American poet and pioneer in black poetry publishing. Melba Boyd's is a "daughter poet's" tribute to a fellow poet, friend and mentor, with a biographer visible in every turn of the journey. It celebrates without panagyrising. An important book; a model biography, indeed.

Maria I. Diedrich, professor of American studies, University of Muenster, Germany and author of Love Across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass

A serious, delightful and unpredictable exursion into the vibrant and volatile social life of Detroit.

Jonathan Scott, Race and Class
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''

About the Author

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. She is the author of six books of poetry, including The Province of Literary Cats, co-editor of Abandoned Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001, author of Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E. W. Harper, 1825–1911, and the producer and director of the documentary film, The Black Unicorn: Dudley Randall and Broadside Press.