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Rita Dove

Full name: Rita Dove

Real name: Rita Frances Dove

Years: 1952-08-28 / Present day 

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Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal. In 2006 she received the coveted Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan — see the press release, newspaper coverage and photos), in 2007 she became a Chubb Fellow at Yale University, in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009 she received the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the Premio Capri (the international prize of the Italian "island of poetry").

Ms. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar, she received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She also held a Fulbright scholarship at the Universität Tübingen in Germany. She has published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theatres. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For "America's Millennium", the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed — in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music — a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. She is the editor of Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice", for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton & Company in the spring of 2009.

Biography:

In 1993 Rita Dove was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, making her the youngest person — and the first African-American — to receive this highest official honor in American letters. She held the position for two years. In 1999 she was reappointed Special Consultant in Poetry for 1999/2000, the Library of Congress's bicentennial year, and in 2004 Virginia governor Mark Warner appointed her as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a two year position.

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952 as the daughter of the first Black research chemist who, in the 1950s, broke the race barrier in the tire industry. In 1970 she was invited to the White House as a Presidential Scholar, one of the hundred most outstanding high school graduates in the United States that year, before attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio as a National Achievement Scholar. She graduated summa cum laude (as well as Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi) with a degree in English in 1973, followed by two semesters as a Fulbright scholar at Universität Tübingen in Germany. She then joined the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1977. In 1976 she met the German writer Fred Viebahn, who was a Fulbright fellow in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program that year; they married in 1979, and their daughter Aviva Chantal Tamu Dove-Viebahn was born in 1983.

Appearances in magazines and anthologies had already won national acclaim for Rita Dove when she published her first poetry collection, The Yellow House on the Corner, with Carnegie-Mellon University Press in 1980. It was followed by Museum (1983) and Thomas and Beulah (1986), both also from Carnegie-Mellon. Thomas and Beulah, a collection of interrelated poems loosely based on her grandparents' life, earned her the 1987 Pulitzer Prize, making her the second African American poet (after Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950) to receive this prestigious award.

Other publications by Rita Dove include a book of short stories (Fifth Sunday, Callaloo Fiction Series, 1985), the poetry collections Grace Notes (W.W. Norton, 1989), Selected Poems (Pantheon/Vintage, 1993), Mother Love (W.W. Norton, 1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W.W. Norton, 1999), and American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992), the verse drama The Darker Face of the Earth (Story Line Press, 1994; 2nd, revised edition 1996) and a book of her laureate lectures (The Poet's World, The Library of Congress, 1995). Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W. W. Norton in the spring of 2009.

The Darker Face of the Earth had its critically acclaimed world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon in the summer of 1996, supported by a major grant from the W. Alton Jones Foundation. A joint production by Crossroads Theatre of New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., underwritten by the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays, the Geraldine Dodge Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, opened at Crossroads in October 1997 and went to the Kennedy Center for a four week run in the Eisenhower Theater in November 1997. In August 1999 the play opened at the Royal National Theatre in London and was simultaneously published in Great Britain by Oberon Press. Other professional productions were staged in March 2000 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and by the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles in August 2000, and over the years there have been numerous college, high school and amateur productions.

In 1994 Rita Dove's poem Lady Freedom Among Us, first read by her at the ceremony commemorating the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Capitol and celebrating the restoration of the Freedom Statue on the Capitol's dome in October 1993, was published by Janus Press of Vermont in a limited edition to become the four-millionth acquisition of the University of Virginia Libraries. A multimedia version was made globally accessible by the University of Virginia on the World Wide Web, one of the earliest such publications by a major writer.

Ms. Dove's poetry has earned her fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978 and 1989), the Guggenheim Foundation (1983-84) and the National Humanities Center (1988-89), among others. She was granted a Portia Pittman Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities as writer-in-residence at Tuskegee Institute in 1982, was chosen by Robert Penn Warren — then the first U.S. Poet Laureate — for the 1986 Lavan Younger Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets, received the 1987 General Electric Foundation Award, the 1988 Ohio Governor's Award in the Arts, "Literary Lion" medals from the New York Public Library in 1990 and 1996 as well as its "Library Lion" medal in 2000, and 21 honorary doctorates — from Miami University, Knox College, Tuskegee University, University of Miami, Washington University, Case Western Reserve University, The University of Akron, Arizona State University, Boston College, Dartmouth College, Spelman College, The University of Pennsylvania, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of Notre Dame, Northeastern University, Columbia University, SUNY Brockport, Washington & Lee University, Howard University, the Pratt Institute, and Skidmore College.

In 1993 Ms. Dove was named one of ten "Outstanding Women of the Year" by Glamour magazine, and the NAACP honored her with its Great American Artist Award, followed in 1994 by the Folger Shakespeare Library's Renaissance Forum Award for Leadership in the Literary Arts, the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement and the Carl Sandburg Award from the International Platform Association. She also received the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, one of the largest cash prizes in the world, and the 1996 Charles Frankel Prize / National Humanities Medal, the U.S. Government's highest honor for writers and scholars. Among her more recent distinctions are the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1998 Levinson Prize from Poetry Magazine, the 1999 John Frederick Nims Translation Award (together with Fred Viebahn), also from Poetry, a nomination for the Year 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award for On the Bus With Rosa Parks, which was listed as one of "25 Books to Remember from 1999" by the New York Public Library, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award in the Literary Arts from the Ellington Fund in Washington, D.C., the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award from the Women's Leadership Forum in Charlottesville, VA, and the 2006 Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service from PNC Bank in Wilmington, Delaware (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan), Yale University's Chubb Fellowship in 2007, and the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Virginia. In 2009 she received the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the Premio Capri (the international prize of the Italian "island of poetry").

Rita Dove has read her poetry at a White House state dinner, was featured on CNN, on NBC's Today Show, in a Bill Moyer's Journal prime time special on PBS dedicated to her and her work and, also on PBS, on the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour (in an interview with Charleyne Hunter-Goult), the Charlie Rose Show, and Dennis Wholey's This is America. She produced, in collaboration with the Library of Virginia, Shine Up Your Words: A Morning with Rita Dove, a nationally televised one hour television show with elementary school children about poetry, narrated an NPR program on Billie Holiday and the three part PBS documentary on Southern literature, Tell About the South, filmed a segment with Big Bird for Sesame Street, and appeared repeatedly on Garrison Keillor's public radio program A Prairie Home Companion.

In April 1995 Rita Dove hosted, together with former President Jimmy Carter, an unprecedented gathering of Nobel Laureates in Literature in Atlanta, Georgia as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Subsequently she wrote the text for composer Alvin Singleton's symphonic work "Umoja — Each One of Us Counts," for symphony orchestra and narrator, commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and performed, with Andrew Young as narrator, at Atlanta Symphony Hall during the opening weekend of the Centennial Olympic Summer Games in July 1996; it was also broadcast on NPR. (Years earlier Alvin Singleton and Rita Dove had collaborated on another composition, "Between Sisters," based on the poem "The House Slave", which was first performed at Spelman College, Atlanta, in 1990.)

Ms. Dove provided the texts for two major musical works by composer Tania León (the first premiered at Merkin Concert Hall, New York, in 1996, and the second at the Harlem Stage Theater, New York, in 2006) and for composer Bruce Adolphe (first performed at Lincoln Center, New York, 1997), among others. Her song cycle Seven for Luck, with music by John Williams, premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and soprano Cynthia Haymon (conducted by the composer) at Tanglewood on July 25, 1998; some of the songs and a conversation between writer and composer were featured in the popular PBS television series Boston Pops. Rita Dove also collaborated with John Williams on Steven Spielberg's The Unfinished Journey and read her text live at the premiere of this documentary during "America's Millennium" at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on New Year's Eve 1999 (broadcast on CBS) after attending the Millennium New Year's Eve dinner at the White House. In 2001 the Museum for Contemporary Art in Chicago premiered Thomas and Beulah, set to music by Amnon Wolman and performed by Cynthia Haymon (soprano) and Ursula Oppens (piano).

Rita Dove is past president (1986-87) of the Associated Writing Programs (the association of creative writers in American academia) and currently (2006 to 2012) a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is a member both of New York-based PEN American Center and Los Angeles-based PEN USA, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers, among other literary and cultural organizations. From 1994 to 2000 she served as senator of the national academic association Phi Beta Kappa, and from 1994 to 2001 she was a member of the Golden Plate Awards Council of the American Academy of Achievement. She is advisory editor to the literary periodicals Callaloo, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, and TriQuarterly (among others), has been a Poets' Corner Elector at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, and she sits on the advisory boards of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Freedom of Expression and of the non-profit organization Student Achievement & Advocacy Services. She has chaired the National Endowment for the Arts poetry panel (in 1985) and the Pulitzer Prize jury in poetry (in 1997), and she edited the anthology Best American Poetry 2000. From January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "The Poet's Choice", for The Washington Post.

Ms. Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989; subsequently she joined the faculty of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she holds the chair as Commonwealth Professor of English (since 1993). In her spare time she enjoys playing the viola da gamba, a 17th century string instrument related to the cello, her classical voice training and — together with her husband — ballroom dancing and Argentinean tango.

(Daughter Aviva Dove-Viebahn graduated from Mary Baldwin College with a B.A. in theatre and biochemistry in 2001, received her M.A. in art history from the University of Virginia in 2003 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the program for visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester, New York.)