Poetry in motion

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Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Library

A fine artist and poet, William Randolph (Randy) Brown came to Grand Rapids as a young man. Born in Louisiana in 1925, Brown graduated from high school at 16, and then from Xavier University at age 20.

Brown double majored in English and Fine Arts and received numerous awards for his paintings. Shortly after graduating, Brown and his wife, Clemma, moved north to Grand Rapids, following family. Despite his education, talent and success, limited jobs were open to Brown as a Black man, and he found work as a waiter at the Peninsular Club. He convinced the club to let him market his paintings to members and sold 10 pieces at his first show. Brown soon was traveling across Michigan selling his work and was successful enough to quit his job as a waiter.

Later, Brown worked as a commercial artist and a muralist, and taught classes on Black history and art at local colleges. In the 1970s, he focused on his poetry, writing prolifically, and doing readings across the state. Brown also was a mentor, friend and business partner to Paul Collins, internationally known artist. A community icon, Brown was awarded the Giants Ethel Coe Humanities Award in 1984, and died in 2010.

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