Dove, Rita (Frances) 1952-

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DOVE, Rita (Frances) 1952-


Born August 28, 1952, in Akron, OH; daughter of Ray A. (a chemist) and Elvira E. (Hord) Dove; married Fred Viebahn (a writer), March 23, 1979; children: Aviva Chantal Tamu Dove-Viebahn. Education: Miami University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1973; attended Universität Tübingen (West Germany), 1974-75; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1977.


Home—Charlottesville, VA. Office—Department of English, 219 Bryan Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903; fax: 434-924-1478. E-mail—[email protected].


Arizona State University, Tempe, assistant professor, 1981-84, associate professor, 1984-87, professor of English, 1987-89; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, professor of English, 1989-93, Commonwealth Professor of English, 1993—. Writer-in-residence at Tuskegee Institute, 1982. National Endowment for the Arts, member of literature panel, 1984-86, chair of poetry grants panel, 1985. Commissioner, Schomburg Center for the Preservation of Black Culture, New York Public Library, 1987—; judge, Walt Whitman Award, Academy of American Poets, 1990, Pulitzer Prize in poetry, 1991 and 1997, Ruth Lilly Prize, 1991, National Book Award (poetry), 1991 and 1998, Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, 1992—; jury member, Amy Lowell fellowship, 1997, and Shelley Memorial Award, 1997. Library of Congress consultant in poetry, 1993-95, special consultant in poetry, 1999-2000, member of board of student achievement services, 2002—. Member, Afro-American studies visiting committee, Harvard University, and Council of Scholars, Library of Congress, 2002—. Has made numerous appearances on radio and television, including Today Show, Charlie Rose Show, Bill Moyers' Journal, A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, and National Public Radio's Morning Edition.


PEN, Associated Writing Programs (member of board of directors, 1985-88; president, 1986-87), Poetry Society of America, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, American Philosophical Society, Poets and Writers, Phi Beta Kappa (senator, 1994-2000).


Fulbright fellow, 1974-75; grants from National Endowment for the Arts, 1978, and Ohio Arts Council, 1979; International Working Period for Authors fellow for West Germany, 1980; John Simon Guggenheim fellow, 1983; Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award, Academy of American Poets, 1986; Pulitzer Prize in poetry, 1987, for Thomas and Beulah; General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers, 1987; Bellagio (Italy) residency, Rockefeller Foundation, 1988; Ohio Governor's Award, 1988; Mellon fellow, National Humanities Center, 1988-89; Ohioana Award, 1991, for Grace Notes; Literary Lion Medal, New York Public Library, 1991; inducted into Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, 1991; appointed Poet Laureate of the United States, 1993-94 and 1994-95; Women of the Year Award, Glamour magazine, 1993; Great American Artist Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1993; Harvard University Phi Beta Kappa Lecturer, 1993; Distinguished Achievement medal, Miami University Alumni Association, 1994; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1994; Renaissance Forum Award for leadership in the literary arts, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1994; Carl Sandburg Award, International Platform Association, 1994; Fund for New American Plays grant, 1995; Heinz Award in arts and humanities, 1996; Charles Frankel Prize/National Humanities Medal, 1996; Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, 1997; Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, 1997; Levinson Prize, Poetry magazine, 1998; Frederick Nims Translation Award (with Fred Viebahn), Poetry, 1999; Library Lion Medal, New York Public Library, 2000; Twenty-five Books to Remember list, New York Public Library, and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 2000, both for On the Bus with Rosa Parks; Margaret Raynal Virginia Writer of Distinction, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, 2001; Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001; Emily Couric Leadership Award, 2003. Awarded honorary doctorates from Miami University, 1988, Knox College, 1989, Tuskegee University, 1994, University of Miami, 1994, Washington University—St. Louis, 1994, Case Western Reserve University, 1994, University of Akron, 1994, Arizona State University, 1995, Boston College, 1995, Dartmouth College, 1995, Spelman College, 1996, University of Pennsylvania, 1996, Notre Dame, 1997, Northeastern University, 1997, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, 1997, Columbia University, 1998, State University of New York—Brockport, 1999, Washington and Lee University, 1999, Howard University, 2001, Pratt Institute, 2001, and Skidmore College, 2004.


Ten Poems (chapbook), Penumbra Press (Lisbon, IA), 1977.

The Only Dark Spot in the Sky (poetry chapbook), Porch Publications (Phoenix, AZ), 1980.

The Yellow House on the Corner (poems; also see below), Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1980.

Mandolin (poetry chapbook), Ohio Review (Athens, OH), 1982.

Museum (poems; also see below), Carnegie-Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1983.

Fifth Sunday (short stories), University of Kentucky Press (Lexington, KY), 1985, 2nd edition, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1990.

Thomas and Beulah (poems; also see below), Carnegie-Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1986.

The Other Side of the House (poems), photographs by Tamarra Kaida, Pyracantha Press (Tempe, AZ), 1988.

Grace Notes (poems), Norton (New York, NY), 1989.

Through the Ivory Gate (novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992.

Selected Poems (contains The Yellow House on the Corner, Museum, and Thomas and Beulah), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1993.

Lady Freedom among Us, Janus Press (Burke, VT), 1993.

The Darker Face of the Earth: A Play (first produced at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 1996; produced at Kennedy Center, 1997; produced in London, England, 1999), Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1994, 3rd revised edition, 2000.

Mother Love: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 1995. (Author of foreword) Multicultural Voices: Literature from the United States, Scott Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1995.

The Poet's World, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1995.

Evening Primrose (poetry chapbook), Tunheim-Santrizos (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.

On the Bus with Rosa Parks: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 1999.

(Editor) The Best American Poetry 2000, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.

(Selector and author of introduction) Natasha Trethewey, Domestic Work: Poems, Graywolf Press (Saint Paul, MN), 2000.

Conversations with Rita Dove, edited by Earl G. Ingersoll, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2003.

American Smooth (poems), Norton (New York, NY), 2004.

Work represented in anthologies. Author of weekly column "Poet's Choice," in Washington Post Book World, 2000-02. Contributor of poems, stories, and essays to magazines, including Agni Review, Antaeus, Georgia Review, Nation, New Yorker, and Poetry. Member of editorial board, National Forum, 1984-89, Isis, and Ploughshares; associate editor, Callaloo, 1986-98; advisory editor, Gettysburg Review, TriQuarterly, Callaloo, Georgia Review, Bellingham Review, International Quarterly, and Mid-American Review.


The House Slave, music by Alvin Singleton, first presented at Spelman College, 1990.

(With Linda Pastan) Under the Resurrection Palm, music by David Liptak, first presented by Eastman American Music series, 1993.

Umoja: Each One of Us Counts, music by Alvin Singleton, first presented in Atlanta, GA, 1996.

Singin' Sepia, music by Tania Leon (first presented in New York, NY), Continuum International Publishing (New York, NY), 1996.

Grace Notes, music by Bruce Adolphe, first presented in New York, NY, 1997.

The Pleasure's in Walking Through, music by Walter Ross, first presented in Charlottesville, VA, 1998.

Seven for Luck, music by John Williams, first presented in Tanglewood, MA, 1998.

Song for the Twentieth Century, music by John Williams, first presented in Washington, DC, as part of Stephen Spielberg's film The Unfinished Journey, 1999.

Thomas and Beulah, music by Amnon Wolman, first presented in Chicago, IL, 2001.


Rita Dove and Edward Hirsch Reading Their Poems, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1986.

Poets in Person: Rita Dove with Helen Vendler, Modern Poetry Association (Chicago, IL), 1991.

Grace Cavalieri Interviews United States Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1993.

Rita Dove Reading from Her Poetry, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1993.

A Handful of Inwardness: The World in the Poet, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1994.

Stepping Out: The Poet in the World, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1994.

Rita Dove Reading Her Poems in the Montpelier Room, May 4, 1995, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1995.

Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora: Panel Discussions and Readings Exploring the African Diaspora through the Eyes of Its Artists, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1995.

Former Poet Laureate Rita Dove Discusses the Thomas Jefferson Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1997.

(With others) Sharing the Gifts: Readings by 1997-2000 Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Robert Pinsky, 1999-2000 Special Poetry Consultants Rita Dove, Louise Glück, W. S. Merwin, 1999 Witter Bynner fellows David Gewanter, Campbell McGrath, Heather McHugh, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1999.

The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress—Favorite Poets, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1999.

(With others) Poetry and the American People, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 2000.


Rita Dove, who served as poet laureate of the United States from 1993 until 1995, has been described as a quiet leader and as an artist who weaves African-American experience into the broader perspective of international culture. Dove's lyrical and accessible poetry reflects the author's interest in music and drama, as well as her commitment to social justice and her sensitivity to women's issues. As Dove explained in the Washington Post: "Obviously, as a black woman, I am concerned with race.…But certainly not every poem of mine mentions the fact of being black. They are poems about humanity, and sometimes humanity happens to be black. I cannot run from, I won't run from any kind of truth." According to Renee H. Shea in Women in the Arts, "Reflections on the spaces where public and private histories intersect are familiar terrain" in Dove's work. Shea added that in the poems, "every line, every image, is a testament to her gift for language, her wide-ranging and curious intellect, and her continuous research on life."

When she was appointed poet laureate in 1993, Dove was forty years old—the youngest poet ever to be elected to that honorary position. She was also the first poet laureate to see the appointment as a mandate to generate public interest in the literary arts. She traveled widely during her term, giving readings in a variety of venues from schools to hospitals. As the first African-American poet laureate, Dove noted in the Washington Post that her appointment was "significant in terms of the message it sends about the diversity of our culture and our literature."

Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952, Dove is the daughter of a research chemist who broke the color barrier in the tire industry. She grew up in a home full of books and was an avid reader who also enjoyed writing and staging plays. In 1970, she was named a presidential scholar, one of the top one hundred high school graduates in the country that year. She earned a national merit scholarship to Miami University in Ohio, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1973. After that, she received a Fulbright fellowship to attend the University of Tübingen in West Germany, and then completed a master of fine arts at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop. Although Dove published two chapbooks of poetry in 1977 and 1980, she made her formal literary debut in 1980 with the poetry collection The Yellow House on the Corner, which received praise for its sense of history combined with individual detail.

Dove's next volume, Museum, also received praise for its lyricism, its finely crafted use of language, and its detailed depiction of images drawn from her travels in Europe. Alvin Aubert of the American Book Review, however, faulted the volume for an avoidance of personal issues and experiences, such as that of ethnicity. "I would like to know more about Rita Dove as a woman, including her ethnicity, and on her home ground," he asserted. Calvin Hernton of Parnassus, in contrast, praised the "universal" sensibility of the poems in Museum, which, he noted, "lack anything suggesting that they were written by a person of African, or African-American, artistic or cultural heritage."

Dove turned to prose fiction with the publication of Fifth Sunday, a short-story collection. Reviewers emphasized Dove's minimalist style and her interest in what a critic for the Southern Humanities Review called "the fable-like aspects of middle-class life." While considered promising, the volume generally received mixed reviews, with some critics finding the quality and detail of the writing uneven.

Dove is best known for her book of poems Thomas and Beulah, which garnered her the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. The poems in this collection are loosely based on the lives of Dove's maternal grandparents and are arranged in two sequences: one devoted to Thomas, born in 1900 in Wartrace, Tennessee, and the other to Beulah, born in 1904 in Rockmart, Georgia. Thomas and Beulah is viewed as a departure from Dove's earlier works in both its accessibility and its chronological sequence that has, to use Dove's words, "the kind of sweep of a novel." On the book's cover is a snapshot of a black couple in Akron, Ohio, in the 1940s (actually depicting not the author's grandparents, but an aunt and uncle). New York Review of Books contributor Helen Vendler observed that "though the photograph, and the chronology of the lives of Thomas and Beulah appended to the sequence, might lead one to suspect that Dove is a poet of simple realism, this is far from the case. Dove has learned … how to make a biographical fact the buried base of an imagined edifice."

The poems in Grace Notes are largely autobiographical. Alfred Corn remarked in Poetry that "glimpses offered in this collection of middle-class Black life have spark and freshness to them inasmuch as this social category hasn't had poetic coverage up to now." In Parnassus, Helen Vendler described Dove's poems as "rarely without drama," adding, "I admire Dove's persistent probes into ordinary language of the black proletariat." Jan Clausen noted in the Women's Review of Books that Dove's "images are elegant mechanisms for capturing moods and moments which defy analysis or translation." In the Washington Post Book World, A. L. Nielsen felt that the poems "abound in the unforgettable details of family character." Nielsen added that Dove "is one of those rare poets who approach common experience with the same sincerity with which the objectivist poets of an earlier generation approached the things of our world."

A more recent work, the novel Through the Ivory Gate, tells the story of Virginia King, a gifted young black woman who takes a position as artist-in-residence at an elementary school in her hometown of Akron, Ohio. The story alternates between past and present as Virginia's return stirs up strong, sometimes painful memories of her childhood. Barbara Hoffert observed in the Library Journal that the "images are indelible, the emotions always heartfelt and fresh." In the New York Times Book Review, Geoff Ryman noted that Through the Ivory Gate "is mature in its telling of little stories—Virginia's recollections of life with a troupe of puppeteers, of visiting the rubber factory where her father worked, of neighborhood boys daubing a house so that it looked as if it had measles." He concluded, "The book aims to present the richness of a life and its connections to family and friends, culture, place, seasons, and self. In this it succeeds."

In 1993 Dove published Selected Poems, which contains three of her previously published volumes: The Yellow House on the Corner, Museum, and Thomas and Beulah. Assessing the collection for the Women's Review of Books, Akasha (Gloria) Hull remarked that "in the guise of poet," Dove is transformed into "many types of women and men, and takes us readers into their consciousness, helping us to feel whatever it is we all share that makes those journeys possible."

Dove explores yet another genre with her first fulllength play, The Darker Face of the Earth. "There's no reason to subscribe authors to particular genres," she commented in Black American Literature Forum; "I'm a writer, and I write in the form that most suits what I want to say." Depicting the events that ensue when a wealthy white woman named Amalia gives birth to a slave's child, The Darker Face of the Earth imbues the theme of slavery with high drama as well as the murderous elements reminiscent of the classical Greek drama Oedipus Rex. Hull, again writing for the Women's Review of Books, commented that The Darker Face of the Earth "transfers the oedipal myth of patricide and maternal incest to antebellum South Carolina, and though we can guess the end from the very beginning, we read with continuing interest, sustained by Dove's poetic dialogue." The Darker Face of the Earth was produced at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In the African American Review, Theodora Carlisle suggested that the work "draws on a transcendent power, a dynamic that is at once erotic, compassionate, and creative.… This reading is endowed with both compassion and clear-headed responsibility to face and recognize the horrors as well as the richness implicit in the past."

While Dove's forays into fiction and drama have been well received, many observers would agree with Vendler, who commented in the New Yorker that Dove is "primarily a poet" because her greatest concern is language itself. Dove returned to writing poetry with her volumes Mother Love and On the Bus with Rosa Parks, two works that "deepen a dialogue over what might be described as public history versus private," to quote Matthew Flamm in the New York Times Book Review. Dedicated to Dove's daughter, Aviva, Mother Love takes its unifying structure from the Greek mother-daughter myth of Demeter and Persephone. Vendler praised Dove's unsentimental portrayal of motherhood, emphasizing her often wry and sometimes startling tone. "Dove brings into close focus the pained relation between mothers and daughters," noted Vendler. Times Literary Supplement correspondent Sarah Maguire likewise affirmed, "Dove's handling of the variety of voices and styles woven through the book shows a wonderful control of register and music."

On the Bus with Rosa Parks is also partly inspired by Dove's daughter, for on one occasion the poet and her daughter actually found themselves on a bus trip with the celebrated civil rights heroine. To quote Brenda Shaughnessy in Publishers Weekly, "Dove's tenacious belief in personal responsibility for public affairs is echoed throughout her new book, most notably in the sections about Rosa Parks, wherein the poet examines the critical moment when the woman whose name is now synonymous with the civil rights movement stepped into history by sitting down." Shaughnessy added, "Dove is a master at transforming a public or historic element—re-envisioning a spectacle and unearthing the heartfelt, wildly original private thoughts such historic moments always contain." Library Journal correspondent Ellen Kaufman felt that Dove's audience "will relish the delicious combination of a young girl, a dry wit, and a mature soul" in On the Bus with Rosa Parks. In an American Visions review of the collection, Denolyn Carroll concluded, "Their lyrical quality raises [Dove's] poems to the level of masterpieces."

Dove told a Women in the Arts interviewer: "I've always been obsessed by the voices that are not normally heard. I think it comes from the women I knew as a child, the women in the kitchen who told the best stories. They knew how the world worked, about human nature, and they were wise, are wise. When you are marginalized in any way—race, gender, age, class—you must learn to listen and pay attention very carefully if you are going to survive, and—women have known this since time immemorial—you have to anticipate what is expected of you, what you can get away with, how far you can push yourself. That makes you an extremely sensitive human being. It's the lemonade you get out of the lemons."



Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Keller, Lynn, Forms of Expansion, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1997.

Novy, Marianne, editor, Transforming Shakespeare, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Pereira, Malin, Rita Dove's Cosmopolitanism, University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Steffen, Therese, Crossing Color: Transcultural Space and Place in Rita Dove's Poetry, Fiction, and Drama, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Vendler, Helen Hennessy, The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Redefinition, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.


African American Review, spring, 2000, Theodora Carlisle, "Reading the Scars: Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth," p. 135; summer, 2002, Malin Pereira, "'When the Pear Blossoms / Cast Their Pale Faces on / the Darker Face of the Earth': Miscegenation, the Primal Scene, and the Incest Motif in Rita Dove's Work," pp. 195-212.

American Book Review, July, 1985.

American Poetry Review, January, 1982, 36.

American Visions, April-May, 1994, p. 33; October, 1999, Denolyn Carroll, review of On the Bus with Rosa Parks, p. 34.

Belles Lettres, winter, 1993-94, pp. 38-41.

Black American Literature Forum, fall, 1986, pp. 227-240.

Booklist, February 1, 1981, p. 743; August, 1983; March 15, 1986, p. 1057; February 15, 1997.

Callaloo, winter, 1986; spring, 1991; winter, 1996.

Detroit Free Press, July 24, 1993, pp. 5A, 7A.

Georgia Review, summer, 1984; winter, 1986.

Kliatt, March, 1994, p. 25.

Library Journal, August, 1992; November 15, 1993, p. 81; March 1, 1994, p. 88; April 1, 1997; May 15, 1999, Ellen Kaufman, review of On the Bus with Rosa Parks, p. 99.

Michigan Quarterly Review, spring, 1987, pp. 428-438.

New Yorker, May 15, 1995.

New York Review of Books, October 23, 1986.

New York Times Book Review, October 11, 1992; April 11, 1999, Matthew Flamm, review of On the Bus with Rosa Parks, p. 24.

North American Review, March, 1986.

Parnassus, spring-summer-fall-winter, 1985; Volume 16, number 2, 1991.

Poetry, October, 1984; October, 1990, pp. 37-39; March, 1996, Ben Howard, review of Mother Love, p. 349.

Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1992; January 31, 1994, p. 83; April 12, 1999, Brenda Shaughnessy, "Rita Dove: Taking the Heat," p. 48; July 31, 2000, review of Best American Poetry 2000, p. 90.

Southern Humanities Review, winter, 1988, p. 87.

Times Literary Supplement, February 18, 1994; November 17, 1995, p. 29.

USA Weekend, March 25-27, 1994, p. 22.

Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1988, pp. 262-276.

Washington Post, April 17, 1987; May 19, 1993; November 7, 1997.

Washington Post Book World, April 8, 1990, p. 4; July 30, 1995, p. 8.

Women in the Arts, spring, 1999, Renee H. Shea, "Irresistible Beauty: The Poetry and Person of Rita Dove," pp. 6-9.

Women's Review of Books, July, 1990, pp. 12-13; May, 1994, p. 6; May, 1996.


Rita Dove Home Page, (June 28, 2003).