Biography Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden

photo of Robert Hayden
  • Time Period1913 - 1980
  • PlaceDetroit
  • CountryUnited States

Poet Biography

Born Asa Bundey Sheffey, Robert Hayden spent his childhood in a Detroit ghetto nicknamed 'Paradise Valley,' shuffled between his parents home and that of a foster family living next door. Childhood events would result in times of depression he would call 'my dark nights of the soul'. A nearsighted boy, he was often ostracised by his peers and was excluded from many physical pursuits. Reading -however- occupied a great deal of his time.

Hayden finished high school in 1932 and through a scholarship attended Detroit City College. Post graduation, he worked for the Federal Writer's Project, researching black history and folk culture. In 1941, he enrolled in a master's English Literature program at the University of Michigan, where he studied under W.H.Auden - who would become a guide in the development of his writing. After finishing the degree in 1942, he taught for several years at Michigan before transferring to Fisk University; in 1969, he would return to Michigan to complete his teaching career.

Hayden's work has been called 'technically gifted and conceptually expansive.' His first book of poems, Heart-Shape in the Dust was published in 1940. It was followed by an unpublished second collection, then by The Lion and the Archer (1948), and The Lion and the Archer, Figures of Time: Poems (1955). His work was internationally recognised in the 60s and A Ballad of Remembrance won the grand prize for poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Daker, 1966. Selected Poems was published in 1966, and followed by Words in the Mourning Time (1970), Night-Blooming Cereus (1972), and Angle of Ascent (1975). In 1976, he became the first black American to be appointed 'Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress'; this position was later called the Poet Laureate.

American Journal was published in 1978 and 1982, and Collected Poems in 1985.

Michael S. Harper refers to Hayden's work as 'a real testament to craft, to vision, to complexity and historical consciousness, and to love and transcendence.'