Robert Hayden – Ward 4 People & Places You Should Know (May 14, 2022)

May 14, 2022 | People & Places

This was part of my May 14, 2022 newsletter:

Ward 4 People & Places You Should Know

If you live in the Lower Burns Park neighborhood of Ward 4, you may already know about the Robert Hayden house. I first learned about Robert Hayden and his house last summer, when Council voted to establish a Historic District committee to make recommendations about the home at 1201 Gardner Avenue.

Hayden House Ann Arbor July 2021

City staff prepared a memo at the time, explaining Robert Hayden (and his connection to Ann Arbor):

From the memo:
Robert Hayden made extraordinary contributions to American history, culture and poetry while residing at 1201 Gardner Avenue in the City of Ann Arbor. Designating his home as a single-resource historic district based on these contributions would further his legacy and raise awareness of his life and works.

Robert Hayden was born in Detroit in 1913. After a traumatic childhood, he attended Detroit City College, then enrolled in the University of Michigan in 1941 where he won a prestigious Hopwood Award for aspiring writers. After finishing his degree in 1942, Hayden taught at UofM for several years and was the first Black faculty member in Michigan’s English department. Hayden taught at Fisk University for over 20 years, but he and Erma returned to Ann Arbor, to 1201 Gardener Street, in 1969 where he taught at UofM until his death in 1980.

During the tumultuous ‘60s, Hayden was criticized for refusing to call himself a “black poet” (he called himself an “American poet”), though he wrote some of the most powerful black history poems in the English language. In 1976 Hayden was offered and accepted the position of Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress (later called the Poet Laureate) – the first Black American to hold this position. He accepted and was reappointed in 1978.

Robert Hayden from Ann Arbor stamp issued 2012

Above is a picture of a US Postage Stamp issued in 2012 honoring Robert Hayden, recently given to me by an Ann Arbor friend.

On September 20, 2021, City Council voted to appoint members to the Hayden House Historic District Study Committee. I am revisiting this topic because just last month, that committee released a preliminary report with more details about Robert Hayden’s life and the house itself. You can find their 24 page report (4/26/22) here:

We are lucky to live in a community that has been (and continues to be) home to many remarkable people like Robert Hayden. He is someone you should know!