© 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

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Ten Poems, Penumbra Press, 1977 - out of print
  • The Yellow House on the Corner, Carnegie Mellon, 1980, 1989
  • The Only Dark Spot in the Sky, Porch Publications, 1980 - out of print
  • Mandolin, Ohio Review Press, 1982 - out of print
  • Museum, Carnegie Mellon, 1983, 1992
  • Harvard Book of Contemporary American Poetry (contributor), Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1985 - out of print
  • Thomas and Beulah, Carnegie Mellon, 1986
  • Harper American Literature> (contributor), Harper & Row, 1987, 1997
  • The Other Side of the House, Pyracantha Press, 1988 - out of print
  • Longman Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (contributor), Longman, 1989, 1992
  • Grace Notes, W. W. Norton, 1989, paperback 1991
  • Contemporary American Poetry (contributor), 5th and 7th edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1991, 2001, 2006
  • Poets in Person: A Listener's Guide, Modern Poetry Association, 1992
  • Selected Poems, Pantheon/Vintage, 1993
  • A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women (contributor), Story Line Press, 1994
  • Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945 (contributor), Back Bay Books, 1994
  • Lady Freedom Among Us (poem commissioned by the University of Virginia Library as its four-millionth volume), Janus Press, 1994, available online
  • The Darker Face of the Earth (verse drama), Story Line Press, 1994, 1996, 2000 - out of print
  • The Language of Life, Doubleday, 1995
  • Norton Anthology of American Literature (contributor), 4th Edition, W. W. Norton, 1994, 1995, 1998
  • The Poet's World (essays), Library of Congress, 1995 - out of print
  • Mother Love, W. W. Norton, 1995
  • Twentieth-Century Poetry and Poetics (contributor), Oxford University Press, 1996
  • The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African-American Poetry (contributor), Harper Collins, 1996
  • Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (contributor), W. W. Norton, 1996
  • Riverside Anthology of Literature (contributor), 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
  • Approaching Poetry - Perspectives and Responses (contributor), St. Martin's Press, 1997
  • Anthology of American Literature, vol. II: Realism to the Present (contributor), Prentice Hall, 1997
  • Norton Anthology of African American Literature (contributor), W. W. Norton, 1997, 2004
  • Heath Anthology of American Literature (contributor), 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1997
  • Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology (contributor), Bedford/St. Martin's, 1997, 2002
  • Call & Response - The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition (contributor), Houghton Mifflin, 1998
  • Laurels - Eight Women Poets (contributor), SCOP Publications, 1998
  • Evening Primrose, Tanheim-Santrizos, 1998
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks, W. W. Norton, 1999
  • The Best American Poetry 2000 (editor), Scribner, 2000
  • New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America (contributor), Prentice-Hall, 2001
  • Conversations with Rita Dove, Ingersoll, Earl G., University Press of Mississippi, 2003
  • Norton Anthology of Modern & Contemporary Poetry (contributor), 3rd Edition, W. W. Norton, 2003
  • American Literature (contributor), Vol. II, Penguin, 2004
  • American Smooth, W. W. Norton, 2004, paperback 2006
  • Responding to Literature (contributor), McGraw-Hill, 2005
  • The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (contributor), Autumn House Press, 2005
  • Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry, Oxford University Press, 2005
  • The Longman Anthology of Poetry, Pearson Longman, 2006
  • American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (contributor), Oberlin College Press, 2006
  • 20th Century Poetry & Poetics (contributor), 5th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2006
  • Rita Dove Reading from her poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2006
  • Understanding Rita Dove by Pat Righelato. University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Sonata Mulattica, W W Norton & Co 2009.
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.


1978 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

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

1985 Chair Poetry Grants Panel National Endowment for the Arts

1986 Callaloo Award

1986 Lavan Younger Poet Award The Academy of American Poets

1986-1987 President Associated Writing Programs

1987 Pulitzer Prize, Thomas and Beulah

1987 General Electric Foundation Award

1988 Ohio Governor's Award

1988 Bellagio Residency, The Rockefeller Foundation

1988 Mellon Fellow National Humanities Center

1989 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship

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

1990 Ohioana Book Award, Grace Notes

1990 New York Public Library 'Literary Lion'

1993 Phi Beta Kappa poet, Harvard University

1993 Woman of the Year Award, Glamour Magazine

1993 NAACP Great American Artist Award

1993-present Chair, Commonwealth Professor, University of Virginia

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

1994 Carl Sandburg Award, International Platform Association

1994 Ohioana Book Award, Selected Poems

1994 Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement

1994 Renaissance Forum Award, Folger Shakespeare Library

1996 New York Public Library, 'Literary Lion'

1996 Heinz Award in the Arts

1996 Charles Frankel Prize (National Humanities Medal)

1997 Chair, Poetry Jury, 1997 Pulitzer Prizes

1997 National Association of Women in Education, Distinguished Woman Award

1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award

1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award

1998 Levinson Prize, Poetry Magazine

1999 John Frederick Nims Translation Prize with Fred Viebahn

1994-2000 Phi Beta Kappa Senator

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

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

1999-2000 Special Consultant in Poetry Library of Congress

2000 Ohioana Book Award, On the Bus with Rosa Parks

2000 New York Public Library 'Library Lion' medal

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

2006 Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service

2006 Fellow American Academy of Arts & Sciences

2006 Chancellor Academy of American Poets

2004-2006 Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia

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