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Rita Dove

Shape the lips to an o, say a. That's island. One word of Swedish has changed the whole neighborhood. When I look up, the yellow house on the corner
is a galleon stranded in flowers. Around it

the wind. Even the high roar of a leaf-mulcher
could be the horn blast from a ship
as it skirts the misted shoals. We don't need much more to keep things going. Families complete themselves
and refuse to budge from the present,
the present extends its glass forehead to sea
(backyard breezes, scattered cardinals)

and if, one evening, the house on the corner
took off over the marshland,
neither I nor my neighbor
would be amazed. Sometimes

a word is found so right it trembles
at the slightest explanation. You start out with one thing, end
up with another, and nothing's
like it used to be, not even the future.

          — "The Yellow House on the Corner"

Biography / Criticism

Rita Dove was born in 1952 in Akron, Ohio. Her father was a research chemist at the Goodyear plant in Akron and her mother, a homemaker. As a child, the young Dove had a particular fondness and passion for books and said that her parents encouraged her to read anything that she pleased; her parents valued and understood the importance of an education. Dove went on to graduate summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio, and then to study German at the Universitat Tubingen, where she would become a Fulbright Scholar. She also received her Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa. It was there where she met her husband to be, German novelist and playwright Fred Viebahn. Together, the two currently reside in Charlottesville, Virginia with their daughter Aviva. She is presently a Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia where she teaches creative writing.

Dove has been the recipient of many prestigious awards and has held various seats and positions. She was the seventh Poet Laureate/Consultant in Poetry of the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995. She was the youngest person ever appointed to that position as well as the first African American ever appointed. She has also been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1978 and 1989 and from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1983-84. Dove has been given honorary doctorates from several different universities and colleges. She has held residencies at Tuskegee Institute, the National Humanities Center and the Rockefeller Foundation's Villa Serbelloni in Italy.

She was named Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine and given the NAACP Great American Artist Award, both in 1993. She won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her book of poems, Thomas and Beulah. She has been given the Folgers Shakespeare Library's Renaissance Forum Award, the General Electric Foundation award, as well as many other honors. In 1995 she, along with Jimmy Carter, welcomed a gathering of Nobel Laureates in Literature to the city of Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by the Cultural Olympiad of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Dove was also responsible for writing the text for Alvin Singleton's symphony "Umoja - Each One of Us Counts," which was commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to be performed during the opening festivities of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.

Rita Dove's first work, The Yellow House on the Corner was published in 1980. It is a collection of poems dealing with various topics and experiences such as adolescence, romantic encounters, and glimpses into slave history. It was received well by most critics and caught the attention of her peers. Thomas and Beulah, another collection of poems is probably her most famous piece of literature.

One critic wrote "[S]he speaks with a directness and a dramatic intensity that commands attention. . . [Rita Dove] fashions imaginative constructs that strike the reader as much by their 'rightness' as their originality. " Using her poetry, she recounts the lives of her two grandparents, telling both sides of their story: Thomas first, and then Beulah, which in a sense gives her the last word. Dove explains their viewpoints regarding each other and life with a simple, yet elegant and realistic prose. Dove has penned many collections of poems; however, Through the Ivory Gate was her initial attempt at writing a novel. Encouraged by her husband and publishers, she wrote this story about a young African-American woman and her experiences as she returns to her hometown (which, coincidentally, is Akron) to perform and teach children at a local school about puppets and creative arts. Like the story's young protagonist, Dove herself is also very involved with young children. She has appeared on such shows such as "Sesame Street" and NBC's "The Today Show," attempting to draw people who have little prior interest in it to poetry. Her self-declared intention is "to bring poetry into everyday discourse . . . to make it much more of a household word. "

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Works about the Author

Interviews

Works in Languages other than English

Dutch

French

German

Hebrew

Related Links

Rita Dove from Women of Color Women of Words
This site includes a full bio, picture, and quotation from a Washington Post article.

Rita Dove - University of Virginia English Department
This site contains a complete bibliography of Dove's works as well as a thorough listing of the various awards and honors she has received.

The Circle Association's Rita Dove Page
This site features an interview with Dove and select poems.

Report a dead link or suggest a new one by emailing voices@umn.edu.

Contributors

This page was researched and submitted by Valerie D. Levy. It was updated by Lauren Curtright on 1/8/05.