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A Brief Introduction of Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden was an American poet who ascended from humble origins to the peak of his profession when he was designated as the Library of Congress's poetry consultant in 1976. This position was eventually renamed Poet Laureate, and Hayden was the first black American to hold it. It was well-deserved, and it was the latest in a long line of honours and prizes that had come his way for fifty years of greatness in poetry.

Childhood and Influences

Robert Hayden was born Asa Bundy Sheffey on August 4, 1913, in the Detroit suburb of Paradise Valley. He had a rough emotional childhood, spending time with both his parent and a foster family. Hayden turned to literature rather than athletics as a child due to his acute refractive error. When there was a moment when there was a perceived irreconcilable divide between the two positions, Hayden declared himself an American poet rather than a Black poet, at a significant loss in popularity. There isn't a single word of his that isn't about a Black American experience, yet he wouldn't give up the title of American writer for a more limited identity.


Hayden's comprehensive study of American and African American history provided the historical foundation for much of his poetry. Hayden began researching Black history for the Federal Writers' Project in his hometown of Detroit in the 1930s, and he investigated the storey of Black people from their origins in Africa to their current situation in the United States. From W.B. Yeats to Countee Cullen, Hayden was influenced by a wide range of twentieth-century poets. "History has haunted Robert Hayden from the beginning as a poet," stated Charles T. Davis in Black is the Color of the Cosmos: Essays on Afro-American Literature and Culture, 1942-1981. Hayden saw history "as a protracted, torturous, and often murderous process of becoming, of psychological evolution," as he reportedly told Glenford E. Mitchell of World Order. W. H. Auden, with whom Hayden studied at the University of Michigan, and Stephen Vincent Benet, particularly Benet's poem "John Brown's Body," were other early impacts on Hayden's growth as a poet. That poem, which recounts the Black reaction to General Sherman's march through Georgia during the Civil War, prompted Hayden to write about it period of history as well, winning him a Hopwood Award in 1942 for a sequence of poems on slavery as well as the Civil War. While history inspired most of Hayden's poetry, many of his works were also influenced by the poet's Baha'i faith, an Eastern religion that trusts in the emergence of a global civilization. Hayden was the poetry editor of the group's "World Order" journal for many years. Hayden's work was also influenced by the Baha'is' universal vision, which led him to reject any limiting racial classification. On February 25, 1980, he died in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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He finished high school in 1932 and went on to Detroit City College on a scholarship (later Wayne State University). Hayden obtained his master's degree from the University of Michigan in 1944 and worked as a teaching fellow there for two years. He was fascinated by African American history and used his writing to express his concerns about race. He was the English department's first Black member. He later became a member of the faculty at Fisk University in Nashville, where he stayed for more than two decades. Hayden previously described himself as "a poet who teaches to make a living so that he might write a poem or two every now and then." He spent more than two decades at Fisk University, rising up the ranks to become a professor of English. Hayden finished his career at the University of Michigan, where he spent eleven years. The Academy of American Poets Fellowship was among his honours and achievements. In 1980, he died in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His "Collected Prose" was published after his death in 1984.

Literary Works

Hayden published his first book of poems, Heart-Shape in the Dust, in 1940, at the age of twenty-seven. He enrolled in a graduate English literature program at the University of Michigan, where he studied with W. H. Auden. Auden became an influential critical guide in the development of Hayden's writing. Hayden admired the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wiley, Carl Sandburg, and Hart Crane, as well as the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer. Hayden's best poetry is largely concerned with Black history and experience. "The gift of Robert Hayden's poetry is his unified image of the black experience in this country as a continual journey both communal and private," Vilma Raskin Potter wrote in MELUS. Hayden wrote about Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others. Poems regarding the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the American slave trade were also written by him. "An American poet, intensely engaged by the topography of American myth in his endeavours to explain the American black experience," wrote Edward Hirsch in the Nation.


Hayden did not receive considerable attention from the nation's literary critics until the publication of Selected Poems in 1966. Hayden's reputation grew with each subsequent volume of poetry till, in 1976, when he was appointed as a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, he was widely regarded as one of the country's best poets. When discussing his own life and the lives of his people, critics frequently remark to Hayden's unusual ability to mix the historical and the personal.

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Awards and Recognitions

Hayden's poetry garnered international acclaim in the 1960s, and his book Ballad of Remembrance won the grand prize for poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966. In his career, Hayden published nine volumes of poetry, as well as an essay compilation and some children's fiction. Hayden was awarded the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1975, and he was the first Black American to be chosen as a poetry advisor to the Library of Congress in 1976. (later called the poet laureate).

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