For JSTOR Daily, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I wrote about a new book on Robert Hayden that illuminates his relationship to the Black Arts Movement. Many people know that Hayden was once accused of being an “Uncle Tom” because he said he didn’t want to be known as a “black writer.” I’ve written about this before in a Poetry Foundation essay on “Middle Passage.” I admit, I still wondered if the whole controversy was overblown, and if we would ever get past talking about it in relation to Robert Hayden’s work. However, I saw a video of Hayden at the Brockport Writers Forum in 1975 that made me realize how deeply Hayden was affected by all of this. In Derik Smith’s new book Robert Hayden in Verse: New Histories of African American Poetry and the Black Arts Era, he convincingly argues that this controversy, which started at a conference at Fisk University in 1966, was actually an important discussion about art and politics, and that Hayden should be read as part of the Black Arts Movement, despite, and even because of, his disagreements with some artists in the movement.
Read “Robert Hayden’s Relatable Fatigue” on JSTOR Daily.