Born on August 28, 1952 in Akron, Ohio, African-American poet Rita Dove loved poetry and music from a young age. She was an exceptional student and was invited to the White House as a Presidential Scholar out of high school. She studied in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship, later teaching creative writing at Arizona State University. She has won numerous awards for her work, including a 1987 Pulitzer Prize for the book of poetry Thomas and Beulah. Other books from Dove include Mother Love and Sonata Mulattica.
Education and Personal Life
Born in Akron, Ohio on August 28, 1952, Rita Dove developed a love for learning and literature at an early age in a household that encouraged reading. She was honored as a Presidential Scholar, being ranked as one of the top 100 high school students in the nation, and as a National Merit Scholar attended Ohio’s Miami University, graduating in 1973 summa cum laude. She subsequently studied abroad in Germany before returning to the states and earning her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.
She met fellow writer Fred Viebahn, also of Germany, in the mid-1970s while he was studying at the Univ. of Iowa. The two wed in 1979 and went on to have a daughter, Aviva.
Dove established a fine career in academia, eventually teaching at the University of Virginia and becoming an esteemed, award-winning poet. She published chapbooks early in her career and made her mark with collections like The Yellow House on the Corner (1980) and Museum (1983). Dove is known not only for the layered eloquence of her language and ideas but also for portraying portions of the black experience in America, both on a personal and collective front.
In 1986 she published Thomas and Beulah, a semi-autobiographical look at the lives of her grandparents that won the poetry Pulitzer Prize the following year. Other books include Grace Notes (1989) and Mother Love (1995), while her 1999 work On the Bus With Rosa Parks was hailed as a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times.
Appointed Poet Laureate
In May of 1993, Dove was named the poet laureate of the United States, a post held previously by bards like Robert Penn Warren and Joseph Brodsky. She was the first African American appointed to the position as well as the first woman and the youngest, at 41 years old. (African-American writers Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks were both Library of Congress Consultants in Poetry, which was replaced by the Poet Laureate Consultant title in 1985.)
In 1996, after her laureate post had ended, Dove received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton, the same year in which she received the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.
Editor and Lyricist
In addition to her poetry, Dove has penned prose, as seen with the short-story collection Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992) and the essay collection The Poet’s World (1995). She has also written the play The Darker Face of the Earth (1994), and collaborated as a lyricist with a variety of composers.
Dove has served as an editor as well, helming The Best American Poetry 2000 and 2011’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry; the latter was released the same year as Dove’s critically acclaimed book-length poem Sonatta Mulattica, about biracial classical violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower.