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Remaps Robert Hayden’s proper place within African American poetry, and traces his legacy

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This book sheds new light on the work of Robert Hayden (1913–80) in response to changing literary scholarship. While Hayden’s poetry often reflected aspects of the African American experience, he resisted attempts to categorize his poetry in racial terms. This fresh appreciation of Hayden’s work recontextualizes his achievements against the backdrop of the Black Arts Movement and traces his influence on contemporary African American poets. Placing Hayden at the heart of a history of African American poetry and culture spanning the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip-Hop era, the book explains why Hayden is now a canonical figure in 20th-century American literature.
In deep readings that focus on Hayden’s religiousness, class consciousness, and historical vision, author Derik Smith inverts earlier scholarly accounts that figure Hayden as an outsider at odds with the militancy of the Black Arts movement. Robert Hayden in Verse offers detailed descriptions of the poet’s vigorous contributions to 1960s discourse about art, modernity, and blackness to show that the poet was, in fact, an earnest participant in Black Arts-era political and aesthetic debates.

Derik Smith is Associate Professor of English at Claremont McKenna College.

 “Derik Smith has written an important and original work of scholarship with implications for how we read the last half-century of African American poetry. The book achieves both the critical intimacy of focused work on a single subject and the more sweeping significance of a book that aims to define an age. After reading Robert Hayden in Verse, the canonical accounts of the period no longer suffice. This is a book pulsing with vitality, both in its lively prose and in its tenor of critical engagement.”
—Adam Bradley, author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop

 “Makes important contributions to the discourse on Hayden, Black poetry studies, and contemporary African American poetry. Readers familiar only with Hayden’s anthologized poems will find the close readings of other poems particularly useful. It also provides arguably the most in-depth treatment of the importance of Hayden’s Bahá’í Faith.”
—Howard Rambsy II, author of The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry

Winner: College Language Association (CLA) 2019 Book Award

- CLA Book Award