Modern Black American Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Robert Hayden

1913-1980

ROBERT EARL HAYDEN was bom Asa Bundy Sheffey on August 4, 1913, in a poor neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan.When he was a young boy his mother, by then divorced, left him with foster parents, William and Sue Ellen Hayden (from whom he took his name) and left to seek work in Buffalo, New York; years later she returned and lived briefly with the Haydens, but conflicts with them forced her to move to a house next door. Hayden believed that his original name was Robert Sheffey; he did not learn his real name until he was forty.

After graduating from high school, Hayden was variously employed before entering Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) on a scholarship in 1932. He spent four years there but did not earn a degree. Between 1936 and 1940 he worked as a writer and researcher of black history and folklore on the WPA Federal Writers' Project in Detroit while studying part-time at the University of Michigan.In 1938 he won the university's Hopwood Minor Award for poetry, and after publishing a book of poems, Heart-Shape in the Dust, in 1940, he moved to Ann Arbor in 1941 to complete his education. After gaining his M.A. in 1944, he stayed on to teach for two years before joining the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1946. He had married Emma Morris in 1940; they had one child.

In 1948 Hayden established the Counterpoise Press at Fisk to encourage creative writing, particularly by black Americans. Although he wrote The Lion and the Archer in collaboration with Myron O'Higgins in 1948 and published a brief collection of poems, Figure of Time, in 1955, his heavy teaching load limited his production, and he found little recognition in America.However, his poems were translated widely, and his growing reputation abroad led to the publication in London of his second major book, A Ballad of Remembrance ( 1962), which won him the Grand Prize for Poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966. That

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