Hayden's poetry is informed by, indeed haunted by, the history of the African American experience. Thus, Hayden saw history "as a long, tortuous, and often bloody process of becoming, of psychic evolution." Hayden's immersion in history began in the 1930s, when he researched African American history for the Federal Writers' Project in his native Detroit. Some of his best poems are about such black historical figures as Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman, and he is noted for his ability to combine the historical with the personal. Another source for Hayden's poetry was his adherence to the Baha'i faith, an Eastern religion that sees human history as evolving toward a coming world civilization. Such a universal outlook was behind Hayden's desire to be judged as "a poet among poets," not as an African American poet. This position was criticized sharply by other African Americans during the 1960s, and it cost Hayden some of his popularity. Yet from the 1960s through the 1970s, his star rose steadily until, in 1976, he was appointed Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.