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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Who is Rita Frances Dove?

Who is Rita Frances Dove? The world of poetry recognizes her as Rita Dove. Dove is an American poet and author. She was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1993, the first African American to be appointed, and received a second special appointment in 1999.[1] Dove is the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Dove was born 28 August 1952 in Akron, Ohio to Ray Dove, the first African American chemist to work in the U.S. tire industry (as research chemist at Goodyear), and Elvira Hord, who achieved honors in high school and would share her passion for reading with her daughter.[2] In 1970 Dove graduated from Buchtel High School as a Presidential Scholar, making her one of the 100 top American high school graduates that year. Later, Dove graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from Miami University in 1973 and received her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1977. In 1974 she held a Fulbright Scholarship from Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, Germany.

Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989. She received the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and in 1993, at age 40, she was named Poet Laureate of the United States by the Librarian of Congress, an office she held from 1993 to 1995 as the youngest person, and as the first and to date only African American. Gwendolyn Brooks had been the last Consultant in Poetry in 1985-86, prior to U.S. Congress' action renaming the position Poet Laureate.

Rita Dove served as Special Bicentennial Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1999/2000, along with Louise Glück and W. S. Merwin. In 2004 then-governor Mark Warner of Virginia appointed her to a two-year position as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth. In her public posts, Dove concentrated on spreading the word about poetry and increasing public awareness of the benefits of literature. As Poet Laureate, she also brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists. Since 1989 she has been teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English.


Dove’s work cannot be confined to a specific era or school in contemporary literature; her wide-ranging topics and the precise poetic language with which she captures complex emotions defy easy categorization. Her most famous work to date is Thomas and Beulah, published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press in 1986, a collection of poems loosely based on the lives of her maternal grandparents, for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. She has published nine volumes of poetry, a book of short stories (Fifth Sunday, 1985), a collection of essays (The Poet's World, 1995), and a novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992).


In 1994 she published a play The Darker Face of the Earth; revised stage version 1996), which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon in 1996 (first European production: Royal National Theatre, London, 1999). She collaborated with composer John Williams on the song cycle "Seven for Luck" (first performance: Boston Symphony, Tanglewood, 1998, conducted by the composer). For "America's Millennium", the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed — in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music — a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. Dove's latest collection of poetry, Sonata Mulattica,
was published in April 2009.


Besides her Pulitzer Prize, she has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them 22 honorary doctorates, the 1996 National Humanities Medal / Charles Frankel Prize, the 3rd Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities in 1997[3], and most recently, the 2006 Commonwealth Award of Distinguished Service in Literature, the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the 2009 Premio Capri (Italy). From 1994-2000 she was a senator (member of the governing board) of the national academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and she is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Dove lives in Charlottesville with her husband, the German-born writer Fred Viebahn. They have one daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn (born 1983).

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