The United States Postal Service has honored ten of America’s most illustrious poets of the 20th century on 45-cent First-Class Mail Forever stamps. Among those chosen was Robert Hayden, the first African-American to be appointed Poet Laureate. Hayden was also a longtime Baha’i.
Born Asa Bundy Sheffey in 1913 in the Paradise Valley neighborhood of Detroit, Mr. Hayden spent much of his time reading and writing. He attended Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) on a scholarship and earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he was mentored by celebrated poet W.H. Auden.
In 1943, while in graduate school, Mr. Hayden became acquainted with the Baha’i Faith and was drawn to its focus on racial harmony. He incorporated those beliefs into his poems and thought of himself as an American poet, rather than a black poet.
Mr. Hayden was awarded the grand prize for poetry in 1966 for his collection Ballad of Remembrance at the First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Senegal. The award earned him long-awaited worldwide recognition. In 1976, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, which later became the esteemed title Poet Laureate of the United States. His poetry is wide-ranging and includes tributes to black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, folklore, politics, life in the slums and the Vietnam War. One of his most-well-known poems is “Those Winter Sundays,” in which a son reminisces about his father.
Robert Hayden taught at Fisk University in Nashville for 23 years and then at the University of Michigan from 1969 until his death in 1980 at age 66.
Other Twentieth-Century Poets honored by the Postal Service include Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E.E. Cummings, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. Each stamp features a photograph of one of the 10 poets. Text on the back of the stamp sheet includes an excerpt from one poem by each poet. The art director was Derry Noyes.