Image by Fred Viebahn

Rita Dove

b. 1952


I believe even 5-year-olds can get something from a Shakespearean sonnet...as long as you DON'T tell them, 'This is really hard.' - Rita Dove

Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove

Rita Dove

American Smooth

Rita Dove

Straw Hat & Dusting

Rita Dove

Previous Next

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 Tübingen 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."

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

Prizes

Selected bibliography

Understanding Rita Dove by Pat Righelato. University of...

Buy

Sonata Mulattica, W W Norton & Co 2009.

Buy

American Smooth, W. W. Norton, 2004, paperback 2006

Buy

20th Century Poetry...

American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (contributor...

The Longman Anthology of Poetry, Pearson Longman, 2006

Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry, Oxford...

The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American...

Responding to Literature (contributor), McGraw-Hill, 2005

American Literature (contributor), Vol. II, Penguin, 2004

Norton Anthology of Modern...

Conversations with Rita Dove, Ingersoll, Earl G.,...

New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America (...

The Best American Poetry 2000 (editor), Scribner, 2000

Buy

On the Bus with Rosa Parks, W. W. Norton, 1999

Buy

Evening Primrose, Tanheim-Santrizos, 1998

Laurels - Eight Women Poets (contributor), SCOP...

Call...

Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology (...

Heath Anthology of American Literature (contributor),...

Norton Anthology of African American Literature (...

Anthology of American Literature, vol. II: Realism to...

Approaching Poetry - Perspectives and Responses (...

Riverside Anthology of Literature (contributor), 3rd...

Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (contributor), W...

The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African-American...

Twentieth-Century Poetry and Poetics (contributor),...

Mother Love, W. W. Norton, 1995

Buy

The Poet's World (essays), Library of Congress, 1995 -...

Norton Anthology of American Literature (contributor),...

The Language of Life, Doubleday, 1995

The Darker Face of the Earth (verse drama), Story Line...

Buy

Lady Freedom Among Us (poem commissioned by the...

Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by...

A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary...

Selected Poems, Pantheon/Vintage, 1993

Buy

Contemporary American Poetry (contributor), 5th and 7th...

Grace Notes, W. W. Norton, 1989, paperback 1991

Buy

Longman Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (...

The Other Side of the House, Pyracantha Press, 1988 -...

Harper American Literature> (contributor), Harper...

Thomas and Beulah, Carnegie Mellon, 1986

Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry (...

Museum, Carnegie Mellon, 1983, 1992

Buy

Mandolin, Ohio Review Press, 1982 - out of print

The Only Dark Spot in the Sky, Porch Publications, 1980...

The Yellow House on the Corner, Carnegie Mellon, 1980,...

Ten Poems, Penumbra Press, 1977 - out of print

Take a tour

Roger Stevens's tour

I really enjoyed listening to all the poems in the Archive. It's fantastic to hear poets reading their own work. It...

Take Roger Stevens's tour >