Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Locating the Initial Publication Date of Robert Hayden's "Middle Passage"

My friend, the literary scholar Joycelyn Moody as well as the scholar who runs The Public Archive will get a kick out of this one, especially since they both follow aspects of African American publishing history as much as I do.

This morning, I was preparing to publish the latest installment in my series concerning "moments of importance in African American poetry." I wrote the entry last night concentrating on publications and events from the 1940s and 1950s. Among the entries, I included the 4 publication dates of Robert Hayden's well-known poem "Middle Passage;" he made various revisions. 

Initially, the dates I had discovered were 1941, 1945, 1962, and 1966. Right before pressing the "send" button this morning though, something seemed off about the "1941" initial publication. Thus, I did simple online fact-checks just to be sure. Although all the sources confirmed that Hayden's poem initially appeared in the African American journal Phylon, there was no agreement on when. Some sources noted 1941; some noted 1943; and some noted 1944.

My blog entry was initially entitled "10 Moments in African American Poetry, 1941-1966," so pinpointing the correct year was important, among other reasons, for my overall frame. I looked through about 10 sources intrigued with the differences. I finally went to JSTOR's online editions of Phylon to figure out which sources were correct.

I looked through the four 1941 issues of Phylon. No Hayden. I looked through all the 1943 and 1944 issues. Still no Hayden. (I was pleased to discover that Margaret Walker's "Harriet Tubman" poem, however, had appeared in Phylon in 1944). I could've easily entered "Middle Passage" and "Phylon" in the advanced search category to quickly find the Hayden poem, but, ummmm, that would have deprived me of the experience and, yes, fun of moving through so many of the journal's contents.    

I decided to browse through the 1945 volumes of Phylon, and what do you know? That early version of Hayden's poem was there waiting, where it had always been. It's possible that he started writing the poem in 1941 or earlier, and it's also possible that he completed it in 1943 or 1944 as other observers noted. But equipped with my new knowledge of when and where Hayden's poem first appeared, I was in a position to edit my post prior to publishing it, noting that 1945 publication date.    

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