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Julian Randall Explores Black Ancestry & Mental Health in Debut Memoir ‘The Dead Don’t Need Reminding’

By Dianna Vega


Picture this: lush writing, sharp political commentary, and a voice both raw and urgent. I’m not talking about poetry, but I might as well be. Julian Randall’s forthcoming memoir, The Dead Don’t Need Reminding, is a journey on what it means to be a Black man in America and a heartfelt love poem to generations past. 


In his adult nonfiction debut out on May 7th, Julian Randall braves Mississippi or, as he could call it, the “Zero Country,” while retracing the steps of his grandparents and trying to get his family history back. But that’s just one layer. The Dead Don’t Need Reminding is perfectly described by publisher Bold Type Books as a braided story, and I couldn’t agree more. 


Throughout the length of the memoir, Randall unfolds his early days as a poet and the inner confrontations of a depressed artist—the need to share your work with the world but wanting to remain hidden. The Chicago author explained it better than I do when he wrote, “the consequence of being seen is that you’re seen.” That sentence shook me and will surely resonate with many writers. Randall bears his chest open on his experience with anxiety and depression, which he explains through the lens of media productions such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the music of hip-hop collective Odd Future, resulting in a multilayered exposé that is both a personal offering and a media analysis.


Randall explores the need to be seen in multiple contexts; not only that of the artist, but of the individual. The son of a Black American father and a Dominican mother, Randall grew up in a world that refused to acknowledge Afro-Latinx people. Enter Miles Morales, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and Afro-Latinx peer. Through his appreciation of Into the Spider-Verse and what Miles Morales meant for him, Randall raises a conversation on the importance of representation in mass media and, more importantly, he exposes the lack of it. 


While reading, it was easy for me to identify the lack of Afro-Latinx representation as one of the perpetuators of the false and lonely perspective many mixed-race people might have: that they are singular among their peers and belong to neither of two worlds, when in reality, mixed-race people are not half anything but rather double. They have double the culture and heritage to offer, and as much heart. Anyway, Randall has a point when he argues that the first Spider-Man was Black. Please google Anansi, the Spider-Man.


What I loved the most about the memoir is how deep it goes into matters that are so ingrained within us that sometimes we overlook them. Or we’re not aware of them. Thankfully, Randall pays attention to detail like the good poet he is. Some of the themes that stood out for me, and I’m certain that will speak to other BIPOC people, are: the constant pressure that BIPOC people feel to excel and stand out among their white peers, not because of personal satisfaction, but because it is the only way to obtain what others might get in their starter package; the portrayal of Black people in films and how the Black dude always dies first in the horror genre, or they’re made into a martyr; and the experience of being bisexual as a Black man and how people directly tie masculinity and sexuality together.


But Randall’s memoir is also a celebration of Black and Latinx heritage, and of Black loyalty and fraternity and joy. One of the most beautiful passages of the book is in a section where Randall tells us about the time he was chasing the bus, in the hopes that he wouldn’t have to walk home at night. A group of Black boys noticed and started chasing the bus alongside him. “As the boys sprint next to me their ball shorts swirling at their knees like the flags of nations we may never deserve & they must have been balling for hours before we became kin in this moment where they saw me and turned,” Randall writes as he retells this night and closes up the section with my favorite line in the book, “I sprint through that tenderness into their harmony & found myself cousin to boys I will never see again.”


This memoir is in itself about the need we have deep in the marrow of our bones to know where we come from, as it might help understand where we’re headed. Randall writes, “the dead don’t need reminding, but the living are always desperate for a song.” And what a song Randall wrote—one that will echo in the hearts of Black and Latinx folks. It accomplishes one of the hardest things: to make the reader feel seen and heard. 


The Dead Don’t Need Reminding promised, and delivered. With writing that is lyrical and fierce, and in essays that explore multiple formats chapter-to-chapter, this memoir unburies the smaller truths that often go ignored and the inner struggles that go unnoticed. As Randall would say, “well amen, well goddamn, another beginning.”


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Visit our Bookshop to preorder a copy of The Dead Don’t Need Reminding.


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About the Author:

Julian Randall is a contributor to the #1 New York Times bestseller Black Boy Joy and his middle-grade novel, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape From Zafa, was published by Holt in 2022. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Tin House, and Milkweed Editions. He is the winner of the 2019 Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Publishing Triangle, the 2019 Frederick Bock Prize, and a Pushcart prize. His poetry has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, and POETRY. His first book, Refuse, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He lives in Chicago.


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Dianna Vega is a Dominican assistant editor, fiction writer, and poet based in Florida. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Central Florida. She is a 2024 Periplus Fellow. Her poetry has appeared in Outrageous Fortune and South Dakota Review


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