The Broadside Press is currently being celebrated in an exhibit in Special Collections on the seventh floor of the Hatcher Graduate Library until tomorrow. Equipped with a sweeping poetic vision, 12 dollars in cash and a spare bedroom in his room, Dudley Randall began the Broadside Press in Detroit in 1965. Since that modest beginning, the Broadside Press has grown into a respected and authoritative voice in literary publishing circles.
Dudley Randall”s poem, “The Ballad of Birmingham,” was written in 1963 in response to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. and the deaths of four little girls. Randall expresses the mother”s grief in this stanza: “For when she heard the explosion, her eyes grew wet and wild. She ran through the streets of Birmingham, Calling for her child.”
While ensuring copyright protection for “Ballad,” Randall was able to publish the poem on a “broadside.” Broadsides are single-sided 8.5 x 11 sheets with one poem on each sheet. This simple format made publications accessible to all and gave Black poets an opportunity to be read and heard. The Broadside Press was, in its earliest inception, a black-owned business created to serve the literary needs of the black community. On many levels, Broadside was an artistic and entrepreneurial phenomenon. Black writers who could not be published in the mainstream white publishing houses were welcome at Randall”s door.
Gwendolyn Brooks, the poet laureate for the state of Illinois, was one of the first to be published. Gradually, her works became disseminated in the mainstream press. Some of her personal, hand-written letters to Dudley Randall are on display in the exhibit. Ron Allen and Stella Crews edited an anthology entitled, “HIPology: The study of attitudes: A fresh jive in the wake of post-modern wreckage.” Sonia Sanchez, Melba Boyd and Etheridge Knight are members of this unique and distinguished pantheon of poets.
Ill health forced Dudley Randall to refocus the Press. Hilda Vest, a poet/friend of Randall, and her husband, Don Vest, brought new energy to the Press, which they purchased in 1985. The Vests” business sense led them to seek grant funding as they changed the Press to a non-profit entity. With this infusion of cash, Don and Hilda Vest were able to take the Press toward new and challenging directions. Broadside programs reached out to nontraditional venues. Taking poetry into homes for troubled teens, drug-addiction centers and veterans homes allowed for fresh, new voices to be heard. The Broadside Poets Theatre was re-born during this renaissance, featuring open mike sessions. In 1998, the Vests passed the torch to a new group of poets who brought a different vitality to the Broadside Press.
Broadside Press archives will be housed in the Special Collections unit of the Grad Library. Peggy Daub, Head of Special Collections outlined their post-exhibit life in this manner: “This exhibit is only a taste of what the archive contains. You can read about Broadside Press here or you can come in and use the whole archive for original research.” “Dynamite Voices: Broadside Press of Detroit” will continue to crackle and ignite ideas for many scholars and researchers.