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Robert Hayden: Success From Controversial Creativity

1316 words - 5 pages

“Art is not an escape, but a way of finding order in chaos, a way of confronting life” (Berry, Wendell). These were the judicious words that were once stated by American poet and educator, Robert Hayden. Despite being raised in an unstable home, moving from his family to a foster family, on top of struggling with impaired vision, Hayden found an interest in black history and poetry which would later bring him great recognition and success. And he would do so by utilizing his broad study of black history to “illuminate the American black experience” (Contemporary Authors Online). Writing of historical figures such as Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman, he shed light on his beliefs and went on to make history in the world of poetry.
Robert Earl Hayden was born on August 4th, 1913, with his birth name of Asa Bundy Sheffey. It wasn’t until he later lived with foster parents William and Sue Ellen Hayden, that his name was legally changed. Hayden was raised in a poor neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan known as Paradise Valley. After many years of witnessing both physical and verbal confrontations amongst his foster parents, he suffered from depression, and utilized poetry as an escape. In 1932, Hayden graduated from high school and attended Detroit City College, which would later become known as Wayne State University. At the age of 27, he published his first book of poems, Heart-Shape in the Dust, and then attended the University of Michigan. There, he was taken under the wing of Anglo-American poet Wystan Hugh Auden, who soon became a huge influence in Hayden’s writing. He admired a variety of poets, Edna St. Vincent, Carl Sandburg, and Langston Hughes just to name a few, and developed an interest in African-American history. Hayden began using his poetry to further study the topic, and expressed his views while, as Robert G. O’Meally exclaims, “using varieties of ironic black folk speech, and a spare, ebullient poetic diction, to grip and chill his readers” (Contemporary Authors Online). In 1944, he graduated from Detroit City College and moved on to Fisk University, an institution centered on African-Americans. After spending twenty-three years there, and becoming an English professor both at Fisk then the University of Michigan, Hayden would cause much controversy as he arose in the world of poetry.
Throughout his life, he experienced isolation and judgment. As a child with impaired vision, he often found himself short of friends, which forced him to find contentment in another form. Hayden found this in literature and poetry, and later, in the history of African-Americans. The 1930’s sparked the beginning of his extensive research when he started exploring black history for the Federal Writers’ Project in his hometown Detroit. Although the history of Hayden’s people was a major influence in his writing, he also found inspiration in his Baha’i faith, which accentuates spiritual unity amongst all people. Hayden converted to the...

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