Robert Hayden (1913–1980) was raised in Detroit and worked for the Federal Writers Project, researching Black history and folk culture. He published his first book of poems, Heart-Shape in the Dust, in 1940, before earning a master’s degree in English at the University of Michigan, where he studied with the poet W. H. Auden. Hayden was a professor at Nashville’s Fisk University from 1946 to 1969, when he returned to Michigan for the rest of his teaching career. In 1976, he became the first Black American appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (later called the poet laureate). Among Hayden’s best-known collections are A Ballad of Remembrance (Bremen, 1962) and Words in the Mourning Time (October House, 1970), a finalist for the National Book Award.
Jericho Brown grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and worked as a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans before earning his PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. Brown’s The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), was awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry. He is also the author of The New Testament (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), and Please (New Issues, 2008), winner of the 2009 American Book Award. Brown is currently associate professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and poetry editor of The Believer.