Robert Hayden, born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit, Michigan, was raised in a slum called Paradise Valley. Hayden's parents separated soon after his birth and he became the foster child of Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden. He earned his BA (1936) from Detroit City College, later renamed Wayne State University, and between 1936 and 1938 participated in the Detroit Federal Writer's Project. His studies with W.H. Auden at the University of Michigan, where he earned his MA (1944), had a profound impact on his poetry. After graduation he accepted a professorship at Fisk University in Nashville where he would remain for over twenty years. In 1969 he returned to teach at Michigan until his death.
Hayden's early reading of Harlem Renaissance poets such as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, combined with his study of the English classics, informed the precision and originality of his poetry throughout his life. As William Meredith states: "Robert Hayden was a man as gifted in humanity as he was in poetry. There is scarcely a line of his which is not identifiable as an experience of black America, but he would not relinquish the title of American writer for any narrower identity." Whether exploring an extended metaphor as in "The Diver" or drawing on the biography of Phyllis Wheatley, Hayden's poetry remains a distinct contribution to our literature.
Hayden's books include Heart-Shape in the Dust: Poems (Falcon Press, 1940), The Lion and the Archer (Hemphill Press, 1948), Figure of Time: Poems (Hemphill Press, 1955), A Ballad of Remembrance (P. Breman, 1962), Selected Poems (October House, 1966), Words in the Mourning Time (October House, 1970), The Night-Blooming Cereus (P. Breman, 1972), Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems (Liveright, 1975), American Journal (Liveright, 1982), and Collected Poems (Liveright, 1996). His prose is collected in Collected Prose (University of Michigan Press, 1984). Hayden twice received the Hopwood Award for poetry, won the Grand Prize for Poetry at the World Festival of Negro Arts for A Ballad of Remembrance and earned the Russell Loines Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Poems - 10 in all
Those Winter Sundays
The Ballad of Nat Turner
El-hajj Malik El-shabazz (malcolm X)
Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday