poet and writer Rita Dove became the second African- American woman to
win the Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poetryThomas and Beulah
in 1987. From 1993 to 1995 she was U.S. Poet Laureate. Rita
Dove was born on August 28, 1952 in Akron, Ohio to Ray and Elvira Hord
Dove. After graduating summa cum laude from Miami University
in Ohio in 1973, Dove received a Fulbright award to study at the University
of Tübingen in West Germany. She went on to the Iowa Writers
Workshop and completed an M.F.A. in creative writing in 1977.
Dove then joined the faculty of Arizona State University in 1981 and spent
1982 as writer-in residence at Tuskegee. At Arizona State she was
a member of two literary panels for the National Endowment for the Arts
and worked on the board of Associate Writing Programs from 1985 to 1988.
In 1987, Dove became a member of the Commission for the Preservation of
Black Culture at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
She also had editorial positions on the journals Callaloo, Gettysburg Review
and Tri-Quarterly. She received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1983.
From the Academy of American Poets she received the Lavan Younger Poets
award in 1986. She then wrote Thomas and Beulah in 1986, poems
based on her grandparents' lives. Dove won the Pulitzer Prize for
poetry for Thomas and Beulah in 1987, making her the second African-American
woman to achieve this award. Gwendolyn Brooks was first to receive
it in 1950. In addition to the chapbooks Ten Poems (1977)
and The Only Dark Spot in the Sky (1980), Dove's poetry includes
The Yellow House on the Corner (1980) and Museum (1983).
Some of her later poetry includes Grace Works (1989), Selected
Poems (1993), and Mother's Love (1995). She has also written
a novel, Through the Ivory Tower (1992), the play The Darker
Face of the Earth (1994), a collection of short stories called Fifth
Sunday (1995), and a collection of essays called The Poet's World
(1995). At 40, Dove was the youngest person and second African -American
to be U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 through 1995. Dove has also received
honorary doctorates from Miami University and Knox College. She has
received numerous awards including the NAACP Great American Artist Award
and the Renaissance Forum Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Also, Dove is a recipient of the prestigious Golden Plate Award from the
American Academy of Achievement.
Rita Dove now teaches at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, where
she was promoted to the Commonwealth Professor of English. She currently
resides in Charlottesville with her husband, Fred Viebahn and their daughter
Nearly all of Rita Dove’s poetry deals with aspects of history. Shakespeare,
Boccaccio, and Dove’s grandparents are topics of her poetry. Dove
puts a light on the small truths of life that have more meaning than the
actual historical facts. In
a time when African-American poetry has been criticized for too much introspection,
Rita Dove has taken an approach to emotion and the person as human.
Dove’s poetry is not about being black, but about being alive.
Dove appreciates the strength of black speech as essential to the American
way. As far as African-American poets are concerned, Dove definitely
believes the folk element of the black language
is a creation of their own tradition.
Dove’s poetry, similarly, is rooted in song and is different from Caucasian
Poetry. Dove, as a black poet, seems to have taken the ideas of the
white literary world, and interpreted them in the culture of the black
people. Dove’s roots are in Africa, though she does not mind dealing
with universally-minded issues; she has no trouble working around the conflicts
of a multi-cultural society like that of America. Her poetry is concerned
with the pain of the blues.
Rita Dove acknowledges the dialectical tradition
of African-American poetry with pride because it is an element of the black
literary expression. Dove applauds the
song-like poetry that stems all the way from Langston Hughes and Countee
Cullen. Dove has her own unique way of presenting that sort of speech
in her poems.
The most important influence on African-American literature is the idea
of an audience. Oral tradition is incredibly important in association
with the black audience in their literary lives. Interestingly, Dove
has made a decision to write in choice of colloquialisms rather than the
standard English preferred by white poets. Most black poets have
alternated between styles because they find themselves speaking to dual
In Fifth Sunday, Rita Dove has a quality that is obviously African-American.
The short stories contained herein are about adolescence and the love of
others. Dove also deals with womanhood and sex in a new world; a
new country. The kind of language that Dove’s characters use is just
like that of a younger Dove and the speech used in African-American churches.
Fifth Sunday is about the black church and biblical names.
The characters in Dove’s stories represent
a universal opinion that rhythm is a tradition of black names and stories.
In Dove’s poems, she takes average names and raises them to greater importance
due to their simple sounding. The major talent of Rita Dove is to
write with the authority of a scholar, the modern alertness of a contemporary
poet about a form of art too often distracted by professional jargon or
literary cliques. Dove has overcome a literary challenge for the
common reader of 20th-century poetry.
Grace Notes is a good place to analyze Dove’s poetry. In that
particular collection are some of her best poems from her earlier days.
The language of these poems contain Dove’s cultural awareness and sense
of what works with what. The subject matter is universal and her
concern for humanity is always present. The importance of these characters
and their views never lack universal concern.
Poets. 5th edition ed. Tracy Chevalier. St. James
Press Chicago 1991.
features numerous living poets and their classic poems. Each
is focused with an informative biography and short analyses of their
For anyone interested in being exposed to Dove's work, this is a good
to begin. However, if you are looking for more in-depth analyses
will be of little aid.
Survey of Poetry Revised Edition ed. Frank N. Magill. Salem Press
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1992.
This website is quite informative
as it has links to many other relevant
websites. It features
a collection of links concerning Rita Dove's critical and
For close, in-depth research about Dove, this is the best
site to begin from.
1) How do Dove's works
from The Yellow House on the Corner and
Thomas and Beulah reveal the significance of ordinary lives?
2) What is the importance
of Dove's modeling characters in Thomas
and Beulah after her grandparents and their experiences?
3) Why does Dove choose
to use the Greek mythological tale of
Demeter and Persephone to explore motherhood in her writing?
4) After reading "Lady
Freedom Among Us", think about who Dove may
be speaking of and then why?
5) While often Rita
Dove writes about herself, she has received virtually
no criticism for this. Her poetry focuses on Black history in America
primarily. Read a
few of her poems and think about how her poems
may be introspective and still universally viable.
1952, August 28: born in Akron, Ohio
1970: visits White House as Presendential Scholar
1973: graduates summa cum laude from Miami
University, Oxford, Ohio
1974-75: studies at University of Tubingen, West
1974-75: recipient of Fulbright Scholarship
1975: research assistant at University of Iowa
1976-77: teaching assistant at University of Iowa
1977: M.F.A. from University of Iowa, Iowa City
1977: Ten Poems
1978: National Endowment for the Arts grant
1979: marries Fred Viebahn
1979: Ohio Arts Council grant
1980: The Yellow House is published
1981-84: Assistant Professor of creative writing
at Arizona State University, Tempe
1982: Writer-in-residence, Tuskegee Institue,
1982: National Endowment for the Arts fellowship
1983: Guggenheim fellowship
1984: became member of editorial board for National
1984-87: Associate Professor at Arizona State
1985: Fifth Sunday, short story collection
1986: became poetry editor for Callaloo
1986: Thomas and Beulah wins Pulitzer
1986: Lavan Younger Poets award
1987: Pulitzer prize
1987: advisory editor for Gettysburg Review
1987: commisioner at Schomberg Center for the
Preservation of Black Culture, NY Public Library
1987-89: Professor of English at at Arizona State
1988-89: Mellon fellowship
1988: advisory editor for Tri-Quaretrly
1988: Rockefeller Foundation residency, Bellagio,
1989: Grace Notes
1989: Professor of English at University of Virginia,
1991: Through the Ivory Gate, a novel
1993: First African-American US Poet Laureate
1993: Selected Poems
1995: Mother Love
1996: The Darker Face of the Earth premieres
at Oregon Shakespeare Festival