English Literature
Rita Dove

Rita Dove

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Meet Rita Dove: An Accomplished American Poet and Essayist

Rita Dove (1952–present) is an acclaimed poet and essayist from the United States, known for her exceptional talent and contributions to the literary world. In 1993, she became the first African American to hold the esteemed position of United States Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995. Additionally, in 1987, she became the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Throughout her impressive career, Dove has been honored with numerous awards for her insightful and thought-provoking poetry, which explores both political and personal themes.

The Early Years of Rita Dove

Born in Akron, Ohio in 1952 to parents Elvira Hord and Ray Dove, Rita Francis Dove grew up in a supportive and encouraging environment. Her father was a trailblazing Black chemist in the tire industry, and her parents instilled in Dove a love for literature and creativity from a young age. This nurturing upbringing paved the way for Dove's success as an introverted child, excelling in school and being recognized as a Presidential Scholar upon graduation. She went on to earn her B.A. in English from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she was also a National Merit Scholar. Later, Dove received a Fulbright Scholarship and a full scholarship to study at Tübingen University in Germany.

In 1977, Dove completed her MFA in Poetry at the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she met her future husband, German writer Fred Viebahn. The couple tied the knot in 1979 and welcomed their daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn, in 1983. Dove and her husband have resided in various countries, including Germany, Israel, and Ireland, and share a passion for ballroom dancing, even having a studio in their home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rita Dove's Career as a Poet

Dove's literary journey began in 1980 with the publication of her poetry collection, The Yellow House on the Corner, which showcased her unique writing style. However, it was her book Thomas and Beulah (1986) that propelled her to fame, ultimately winning her the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987. This anthology was loosely based on the lives of her grandparents on her mother's side.

Through her career, Dove has achieved many notable milestones and received countless accolades. Here are a few noteworthy moments:

  • In 1989, she began teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville
  • From 1993 to 1995, she served as the first African American United States Poet Laureate, also being the youngest poet appointed at the time
  • From 1993 to 2020, she held the position of Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia
  • In 1999 and 2000, she acted as a Special Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress during its bicentennial year
  • From 2004 to 2006, she served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia
  • In 2017, she received both the NAACP Image Award and the Library of Congress Award for her poetry collection, Collected Poems: 1974-2004

In addition to these remarkable achievements, Dove has been bestowed with 28 honorary Doctorate degrees, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the National Humanities Medal, and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.

Rita Dove Today

Currently, Dove resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, Fred Viebahn. Since 1989, she has been a professor of English and poetry at the University of Virginia, teaching and mentoring hundreds of students. Despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997, Dove remains dedicated to her craft and recently published her latest collection of poetry, Playlist for the Apocalypse, in 2021. She has a personal approach to teaching and often invited students and colleagues to her home for workshops before the COVID-19 pandemic. Her unwavering commitment to excellence and unwavering passion for her art is evident in her work.

Interesting Facts about Rita Dove

  • Her latest book includes a section about her experience with multiple sclerosis and its impact on her life as a writer and mother.
  • Her love for ballroom dancing with her husband often shines through in her poetry, particularly in collections such as American Smooth (2004) and Playlist for the Apocalypse.
  • Besides teaching at the University of Virginia, Dove has also been a professor at the University of Arizona and a visiting writer at various other higher education institutions.

Rita Dove: A Literary Trailblazer for the Black Experience in America

Rita Dove has made a significant mark on American literature, as her personal and melodic poems explore the themes of political activism, racism, and the Black experience in the United States. Her writing fearlessly confronts the dark history of racism in America while also focusing on healing and progress towards a more equitable future.

Dove's writing style is characterized by its intimacy, political undertones, and personal touch. Although she has ventured into various genres, she remains primarily a poet, often using free verse and occasionally narrative forms. Her vibrant use of sensory imagery and symbolism effectively depicts the experiences of African Americans within the complex political landscape of America. Interestingly, Dove did not begin writing about the Black experience until her time at the Iowa Writer's Workshop during graduate school.

With the publication of her book "The Yellow House on the Corner," Dove's writing style evolved to include a powerful blend of the personal and political. Her works often use creative symbolism to portray difficult realities. One notable example is her collection of narratives, "Sonata Mulattica," which tells the true story of Black violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower and his influence on the renowned composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Through concise and evocative descriptions, Dove captures even the most abstract concepts in a tangible and relatable manner.

Rita Dove boasts an impressive career, with eleven published collections of poetry, along with essays, short stories, a play, and fiction works. Some of her most well-known poems, such as "Parsley," have become integral parts of American education and are highly praised for their emotional impact. Dove's poetry recordings can be found in the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress.

It is often easier to remember poems by memorizing their titles and first lines. Fortunately, Dove's works flow effortlessly and stay with the reader long after the first line is committed to memory. While she has numerous other poems to choose from, three of Dove's most famous works are "Parsley," "Thomas and Beulah," and "Sonata Mulattica." Her poetry has been published in various platforms, including her collections, newspapers, and magazines like The New Yorker.

In addition to her many literary achievements, Rita Dove holds a professorship in English and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, where she resides with her husband, Fred Viebahn. Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952, Dove has become a trailblazer in American literature, breaking barriers and inspiring future generations with her powerful and poignant words. She serves as a role model for all, as the first African American Poet Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry. Dove continues to shine as a literary icon and a beacon of hope and inspiration, despite living with multiple sclerosis.

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