Rita Dove

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


Straw Hat & Dusting

Rita Dove

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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.

Selected bibliography

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


Sonata Mulattica, W W Norton & Co 2009.


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


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,...


1978 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

Prize website

1979 Ohio Arts Council Grant

1980 Fellow International Working Period for Authors North-Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Culture and Universität Bielefeld

1982 Portia Pittman Fellow National Endowment for the Humanities

1983 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship

Prize website

1985 Chair Poetry Grants Panel National Endowment for the Arts

Prize website

1986 Callaloo Award

1986 Lavan Younger Poet Award The Academy of American Poets

Prize website

1986-1987 President Associated Writing Programs

1987 Pulitzer Prize, Thomas and Beulah

Prize website

1987 General Electric Foundation Award

Prize website

1988 Ohio Governor's Award

1988 Bellagio Residency, The Rockefeller Foundation

Prize website

1988 Mellon Fellow National Humanities Center

Prize website

1989 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

Prize website

1989-1992 Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies, University of Virginia

Prize website

1990 Ohioana Book Award, Grace Notes

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1990 New York Public Library 'Literary Lion'

Prize website

1993 Phi Beta Kappa poet, Harvard University

Prize website

1993 Woman of the Year Award, Glamour Magazine

1993 NAACP Great American Artist Award

Prize website

1993-present Chair, Commonwealth Professor, University of Virginia

Prize website

1993-95 US Poet Laureate/Consultant in Poetry Library of Congress

Prize website

1994 Carl Sandburg Award, International Platform Association

1994 Ohioana Book Award, Selected Poems

Prize website

1994 Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement

Prize website

1994 Renaissance Forum Award, Folger Shakespeare Library

Prize website

1996 New York Public Library, 'Literary Lion'

Prize website

1996 Heinz Award in the Arts

Prize website

1996 Charles Frankel Prize (National Humanities Medal)

Prize website

1997 Chair, Poetry Jury, 1997 Pulitzer Prizes

Prize website

1997 National Association of Women in Education, Distinguished Woman Award

1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award

Prize website

1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award

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1998 Levinson Prize, Poetry Magazine

Prize website

1999 John Frederick Nims Translation Prize with Fred Viebahn

Prize website

1994-2000 Phi Beta Kappa Senator

Prize website

1994-2001 Member, Golden Plate Awards Council, American Academy of Achievement

Prize website

1999 New York Public Library, Books to Remember from 1999, On the Bus with Rosa Parks

Prize website

1999-2000 Special Consultant in Poetry Library of Congress

Prize website

2000 Ohioana Book Award, On the Bus with Rosa Parks

Prize website

2000 New York Public Library 'Library Lion' medal

Prize website

2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award

2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award

2004 New York Public Library Books to Remember from 2004, American Smooth

2004 New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2004, American Smooth

Prize website

2006 Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service

2006 Fellow American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Prize website

2006 Chancellor Academy of American Poets

Prize website

2004-2006 Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Prize website


Rita Dove

Rita Dove Reading from her poems


2Shakespeare Say


4The Event

5Courtship, Diligence

6Straw Hat


8Roast Possum

9The Oriental Ballerina

10After Reading <i>Mickey in the Night Kitchen</i> for the Third Time Before Bed


12The Island Women of Paris

13The Bistro Styx

14Demeter's Prayer to Hades

15Persephone, Falling

16Lost Brilliance

17Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967

18Freedom Ride

19The Enactment


21All Souls'

22American Smooth

23Fox Trot Fridays

24Meditation at Fifty Yards, Moving Target

25The Castle Walk

26The Return of Lieutenant James Reese Europe

27The Seven Veils of Salomé


29Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove

Books by Rita Dove