Robert Hayden (1913-1980)
September 7, 2021

Using the pen name Robert Hayden, Asa Bundy Sheffey was a gifted poet who wrote elegant poems about black history and other African American themes. Shortly after his birth in 1913, his parents separated, and he was raised by foster parents Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden.

His early years growing up in Paradise Valley were marred by hardship and suffering, and severe visual difficulties precluded him from physical activities, so he turned to academics. He was a voracious reader with an innate desire to achieve regardless of peer group ridicule; he developed his well-celebrated intellectual abilities.

After graduation from high school in 1932, he attended Detroit City College. In 1936, he left college to be a part of FDR’s New Deal, Works Project Administration, joining the Federal Writers’ Project. Here he worked on the American Guide Series, a subset of works that were part travel guide and almanac.

In 1941, Hayden entered a graduate English Literature program at the University of Michigan and studied the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer, to name a few. After graduating in 1942, Robert’s stellar modernist poetry with significant African American themes won numerous academic and literary achievements.

Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975 and became the first African American Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, holding that post between 1976 to 1978, a position that later became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

YAAHA has included Robert’s work, the Middle Passage, in the curriculum 1719 to 1819, Revolts and Runaways on