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 Robert Hayden

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Brief Bio

Born in the heart of Detroit on August 4, 1913, Robert Hayden would grow to be one of the most influential and acclaimed figures in the world of 20th-century American poetry. Hayden's life was marked by a unique blend of artistic vision, cultural reflection, and a deep-seated commitment to education. His legacy extends far beyond his poetry, including a distinguished career in teaching and mentorship, embodying the symbiosis between the arts and academics.

As a child, Hayden faced adversity. He was raised by foster parents due to his parents' inability to care for him. Nevertheless, his love for literature emerged early, spurred by the narratives he found in books, which became his refuge and source of inspiration. His foster parents' home, near the Detroit ghetto known as "Paradise Valley," formed the backdrop of many of his later poems.

Despite his difficult upbringing, Hayden excelled academically, graduating from Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) and later attending the University of Michigan, where he studied under renowned poet W.H. Auden. It was under Auden's mentorship that Hayden's poetic voice began to evolve, reflecting a synthesis of modernist influences and his own cultural experiences.

Hayden's debut book, "Heart-Shape in the Dust," was published in 1940, and marked the beginning of his illustrious literary career. However, it was his subsequent works, including "A Ballad of Remembrance" (1962), "Words in the Mourning Time" (1970), and "Angle of Ascent" (1975) that truly propelled him into the literary limelight. His poetry addressed a variety of themes including history, culture, and the black experience in America, all depicted with his characteristic subtlety and eloquence.

His most famous poem, "Those Winter Sundays," is an exquisite piece of autobiographical poetry. It presents a quiet reflection on the unacknowledged sacrifices made by his foster father. On the surface, it might appear to be a simple poem about domestic life, but deeper exploration reveals a poignant discourse on love, sacrifice, and regret. This ability to interweave personal narratives with profound universal truths is a defining characteristic of Hayden's poetry.

Despite his growing prominence as a poet, Hayden never distanced himself from the academic world. In 1946, he took on a teaching role at Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the course of 23 years, he balanced his own creative pursuits with his responsibility to inspire the next generation of poets and writers. His students often praised his passion and dedication, demonstrating his effectiveness as an educator.

In 1969, Hayden made the decision to return to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, where he continued teaching and writing. His unique position as both a celebrated poet and an experienced educator allowed him to bridge the gap between the arts and academia. He was known to be a generous mentor, nurturing young talent while continuing to make significant contributions to the world of poetry.

His relentless dedication to both writing and teaching led to numerous accolades. In 1976, he was appointed Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate, becoming the first African American to hold this prestigious title. Hayden held this role for two years, further highlighting his standing in the world of American literature.

Despite battling visual impairment in his later years, Hayden continued to teach, write, and inspire until his passing on February 25, 1980. His legacy in the field of poetry is unquestionable, but his impact as a teacher should not be understated. He mentored countless students, instilling in them a love for literature and the courage to explore their own creative potentials.

Robert Hayden's journey was a testament to resilience, creativity, and a relentless passion for knowledge. His ability to combine his poetic genius with his devotion to teaching makes him a unique figure in the annals of American literature. He not only enriched the world with his profound poetry but also touched many lives through his dedicated teaching, proving that poetry and education are truly interconnected realms that can shape minds, hearts, and societies. His life and works continue to inspire, reminding us of the power of poetry in understanding the human experience.

Poems - 30 in all

Robert Hayden

Full Moon
Witch Doctor
Frederick Douglass
Monet's Waterlilies
Those Winter Sundays
The Ballad of Nat Turner
El-hajj Malik El-shabazz (malcolm X)
Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday

Robert Hayden - 2

Tour 5
The Web
The Rabbi
The Whipping
The Prisoners
Theory of Evil
Crispus Attucks
The Broken Dark
The Tattooed Man
Paul Laurence Dunbar
"As My Blood Was Drawn"
"Incense of the Lucky Virgin"
"'Mystery Boy' Looks for Kin in Nashville"

Robert Hayden - 3     ~ New ~

Ice Storm
Double Feature
Traveling through Fog
Night, Death, Mississippi

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