Robert Hayden (4 August 1913 – 25 February 1980) was a poet, essayist, and educator. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1976–78, a role today known as US Poet Laureate. He was the first African-American writer to hold the office.
He was born Asa Bundy Sheffey, Hayden’s parents left him to be raised by foster parents, whose name was Hayden. Due to extreme nearsightedness, Hayden turned to books rather than sports in his childhood.
He attended Detroit City College later called Wayne State University with a major in Spanish and minor in English, and left in 1936 during the Great Depression, to go to work for the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project, where he researched black history and folk culture.
Hayden remained with the Federal Writers' Project for two years. Hayden returned to higher education after the publication of his first book, enrolling at the University of Michigan. He then pursued a master's degree at Michigan.
Hayden began his teaching career at Michigan after graduating. He took a job at Fisk University several years later, remaining there for more than 20 years. He eventually returned to Michigan in 1969, remaining in Ann Arbor until his death.
Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975. His most famous poem is Those Winter Sundays, which deals with the memory of fatherly love and loneliness. It ranks among the most anthologized American Poems of the 20th century. He declined the position later called United States Poet Laureate previously, accepted the appointment for 1976–1977 during America's Bicentennial, and again in 1977–1978.
In January 1980 Hayden was among those gathered to be honored by President Jimmy Carter at a White House reception celebrating American poetry. Hayden served for a decade as an editor of the Bahá'í Journal World Order.
Robert Hayden died on February 25, 1980, at the age of 66.
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