About Rita Dove

Rita Dove (b. 1952) was encouraged by her parents to read widely from a young age and she explored all that the local library in Akron, Ohio, had to offer. Dove went on to study English at Miami University, Ohio, was a Fulbright Scholar at Tubingen in Germany, before joining the renowned University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her glittering academic career was soon matched by her growing reputation as a poet, her first collection, The Yellow House on the Corner, appearing in 1980. Seven years later her third book, Thomas and Beulah, based on her grandparents’ lives, won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 Dove became the American Poet Laureate, making her both the youngest recipient of this honour and the first African American. Her many other awards include over twenty honorary doctorates, the National Humanities Medal from President Clinton and, in 2006, the Commonwealth Award of Distinguished Service. She currently holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia and was recently elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Dove is an inspirational figure for African-Americans and for women, and her own work reflects these two important facets of her life, featuring many iconic names including Billie Holiday, Rosa Parks and Hattie McDaniel. However, Dove is as much interested in what she has termed “the underside of history” exploring the quiet lives of those who, like Thomas and Beulah, are omitted from the official record. Be they famous or humble, Dove’s sensual technique collapses the barriers of history to bring the reader into intimate contact with her subjects. Celebration becomes the best form of protest, whether it’s the soldiers returning from the Western Front who play their music “right up white-faced 5th Avenue” (‘The Return of Lieutenant James Reese Europe’) or Dove herself dancing so ecstatically in ‘American Smooth’ she and her partner take off for a moment from the earth. Ultimately though, like her dancing body, Dove’s poetry isn’t restricted by notions of race or gender.

The critic Helen Vendler has said of Dove’s poems that they “fall on the ears with solace”. This is partly due to Dove’s musical instinct (she played the cello from a young age) which underpins her immaculate sense of phrasing. Whatever form she is working in, her poetry lives up to her own high ideals: “I believe that language sings.”

 

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 11 January 2005 at WTJU-FM, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA and was produced by Chuck Taylor.

Poems by Rita Dove

American Smooth - Rita Dove
Straw Hat & Dusting - Rita Dove
Rosa - Rita Dove
Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove - Rita Dove
Rita Dove in the Poetry Store

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Books by Rita Dove

Awards

1978

National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

1979

Ohio Arts Council Grant

1980

Fellow International Working Period for Authors North-Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Culture and Universität Bielefeld

1982

Portia Pittman Fellow National Endowment for the Humanities

1983

Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship

Prize website
1985

Chair Poetry Grants Panel National Endowment for the Arts

1986

Callaloo Award

1986

Lavan Younger Poet Award The Academy of American Poets

Prize website
1986 - 1987

President Associated Writing Programs

1987

Pulitzer Prize, Thomas and Beulah

Prize website
1987

General Electric Foundation Award

Prize website
1988

Ohio Governor's Award

1988

Bellagio Residency, The Rockefeller Foundation

Prize website
1988

Mellon Fellow National Humanities Center

1989

National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

1989 - 1992

Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies, University of Virginia

Prize website
1990

Ohioana Book Award, Grace Notes

Prize website
1990

New York Public Library 'Literary Lion'

Prize website
1993

Phi Beta Kappa poet, Harvard University

1993

Woman of the Year Award, Glamour Magazine

1993

NAACP Great American Artist Award

Prize website
1993

present Chair, Commonwealth Professor, University of Virginia

Prize website
1993 - 1995

US Poet Laureate/Consultant in Poetry Library of Congress

Prize website
1994

Carl Sandburg Award, International Platform Association

1994

Ohioana Book Award, Selected Poems

Prize website
1994

Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement

Prize website
1994

Renaissance Forum Award, Folger Shakespeare Library

Prize website
1996

New York Public Library, 'Literary Lion'

Prize website
1996

Heinz Award in the Arts

Prize website
1996

Charles Frankel Prize (National Humanities Medal)

Prize website
1997

Chair, Poetry Jury, 1997 Pulitzer Prizes

Prize website
1997

National Association of Women in Education, Distinguished Woman Award

1997

Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award

Prize website
1997

Sara Lee Frontrunner Award

1998

Levinson Prize, Poetry Magazine

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1999

John Frederick Nims Translation Prize with Fred Viebahn

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1994 - 2000

Phi Beta Kappa Senator

1994 - 2001

Member, Golden Plate Awards Council, American Academy of Achievement

Prize website
1999

New York Public Library, Books to Remember from 1999, On the Bus with Rosa Parks

Prize website
1999 - 2000

Special Consultant in Poetry Library of Congress

Prize website
2000

Ohioana Book Award, On the Bus with Rosa Parks

Prize website
2000

New York Public Library 'Library Lion' medal

Prize website
2001

Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award

2003

Emily Couric Leadership Award

2004

New York Public Library Books to Remember from 2004, American Smooth

2004

New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2004, American Smooth

2006

Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service

2006

Fellow American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Prize website
2006

Chancellor Academy of American Poets

Prize website
2004 - 2006

Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia

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