Poets and Poetry

Who was the first African American poet to serve as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress?

Poet, essayist, and educator Robert Hayden (1913–1980) was consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress from 1976 to 1978. In 1985 the position was renamed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit, Hayden’s parents separated before his birth, and then next-door neighbors Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden became his foster family. The severe visual problems that he had as a child continued throughout his life. Young Hayden turned to reading. He attended Detroit City College (later Wayne State University) and left in 1936 to work for the Federal Writers’ Project until 1938. In 1942 he received his master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Hayden had been influenced by such black writers and poets as Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Arna Bontemps, as well as several white writers. In 1940 he published his first volume, Heart-Shape in the Dust. Other works include Selected Poems by Robert Hayden (1966), Words in the Mourning Time: Poems by Robert Hayden (1970), Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems by Robert Hayden (1975), and Collected Poems: Robert Hayden (1985).


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