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Rita Dove - A Pulitzer Prize winning Akron poet

Updated on August 29, 2014
  • Published 9 volumes of poetry
  • Fifth Sunday (1985) - a book of short stories
  • The Poet's World (1995) - a collection of essays
  • Through the Ivory Gate (1992) - a novel
  • The Darker Face of the Earth (1994) - a play that premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR in 1996.
  • First European production of her play at the Royal National
    Theatre, London 1999
  • Sonata Mulattica (2009) - her latest collection of poetry

Rita Dove 1952-

Only two years my senior and quite an inspiration to me and many others, Rita Dove, is an American contemporary poet and author, born and raised right here in Akron, Ohio. Poets come from anywhere and everywhere, and Rita Dove has represented Akron as a poet extraordinaire in this country.

She was born in 1952 to Ray Dove and Elvira Hord. Her father had the distinction of being the first African-American chemist to work in the U.S. tire Industry. He was a research chemist at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. For this area, that is really accomplishing something.

Her mother was an honors high school student who passed on her passion for reading to Rita.

Rita grew up in Akron and graduated from Buchtel High School as a Presidential Scholar which meant she was one of the 100 top American high school graduates that year. She went on to graduate summa cum laude with a BA from Miami University in 1973 and continued on with her education, graduating with an MFA in 1977 from the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa.

She received a Fulbright Scholarship from Eberhard Karls Universitat, Tubingen, Germany in 1974. After her academic career she went on the teach creative writing at Arizona State University, all the while continuing to write poetry and short stories.

In 1987, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Thomas and Beulah, a collection of poems based on the lives of her maternal grandparents. This is her most famous work to date and it was published in 1986 by the Carnegie-Mellon University Press. She is the second African-American to receive this prize.

Also, in this year she was named Poet Laureate of the United States. As poet laureate she concentrated on spreading the word about poetry and increasing the publics' awareness of the benefits of literature, long her passion received from her mother.

From 1993-95 she served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and is the first African-American to be appointed and to serve that position.

Today, she lives with her husband, Fred Viebahn, a German born writer and their daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn, in Charlottesville, VA. She has been teaching at the University of Virginia since 1989 and holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English there. She continues to write poetry today.

Her poetry is quite unusual and unique and her work cannot be categorized or labeled into one area. Some of her poetry is personal, but it cannot be confined to a specific era or school in contemporary literature.

She also writes on wide-ranging topics with precise poetic language and she captures complex emotions that defy categorization.

Along with having received the Pulitzer Prize and Poet Laureate of the U.S., Dove has received numerous literary and academic honors over the years. She has received 24 honorary doctorate degrees, the most recent in 2013 from Emerson University in Boston, and Emory University in Atlanta.

She has collaborated with music composer John Williams and contributed to a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial and accompanied by his music for the White House 1999/2000 New Year's Celebration, which I watched by the way. It was marvelous.

In 2011, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama and the same year she edited The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) which sparked a controversy in her choice of selection of poets to include. She was accused by some critics of valuing an inclusive populist agenda over quality in her selection of poems.

She vigorously defended her selections of poems on Bill Moyer's, Moyers & Co. seen on PBS and also to The New York Review of Books.

She included such poets as Wallace Stevens, T.S. Elliott, Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Anne Sexton among others. I think her choices were good ones for this anthology.

Her contribution to the poetry and the literature of this country has been interesting, beautiful, and wonderful and she has carved out a place in our country's literature for posterity.

Rita Dove reads her poetry

Rita Dove receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2011.
Rita Dove receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2011. | Source

More Rita Dove Poetry

Here are two more of Dove's poems from the University of Illinois website. ( These are from her early writings.

Golden Oldie

I made it home early, only to get

stalled in the driveway - swaying

at the wheel like a blind pianist caught in a tune

meant for more than two hands playing

The words were easy, crooned

by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover

a pain majestic enough

to live by. I turned the air conditioning off,

leaned back to float on a film of sweat,

and listened to her sentiment:

Baby, where did the love go? - a lament

I greedily took in

without a clue who my lover

might be, or where to start looking.


Just when hope withers, the visa is granted..

The door opens to a street like in the movies,

clean of people, of cats; except it is your street

you are leaving. A visa has been granted,

"provisionally" - a fretful word.

The windows you have closed behind

you are turning pink doing what they do

every dawn. Here it's gray. The door

to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,

the saddest object in the world.

Well, the world's open. And now through

the windshield the sky begins to blush

as you did when your mother told you

what it took to be a woman in this life.

Have you read Rita Dove's poetry before this?

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    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      VVanNess: Yes, part of my life I lived outside of Akron and knew of Rita Dove. She was quite the poet writing celebrity here in Akron, and even in high school we knew all about her writing abilities. I have followed her writing career over the years and I love her poetry. So emotional! I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanks for your visit. So appreciated.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 

      7 years ago from Fountain, CO

      Once again. Beautiful job!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Gypsy Rose Lee: Yes, Rita's is a gem as a poet. Her poetry is so good. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments. Most appreciated.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      8 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      Thanks for the intro to Rita Dove. Great poetry.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      brownella: So glad I could introduce her to you. I'm so glad you enjoyed her poetry. Thanks so much for your visit and your insightful comments.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Audrey: Her poetry is wonderful and so touching. I'm so glad you enjoyed this.

    • brownella profile image


      8 years ago from New England

      Great hub, I'd never heard of Rita Dove but after reading the poems you included I'll definitely be looking for more, they have a great sort of swinging beat to them. Thanks for sharing :)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      8 years ago from California

      Thank you for sharing this with us--her work is superb!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      dj: Great! I would love to hear her speak as she is so talented. Thanks for your comments and for reading this. Most appreciated.

    • djseldomridge profile image

      Donna Seldomridge 

      8 years ago from Delaware

      I saw her speak at the University of Delaware recently. She was phenomenal.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Eddy: So glad you enjoyed this. Her poetry is wonderful.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      A great review and thank you for sharing.


    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Lurana: I'm so excited you have read her poetry. She is very gifted. Thank you so much for your comments and input as it is most appreciated.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have read her before, though I cannot remember which poems. She is a gifted voice in American poetry. I'm really enjoying your recent articles about writers!!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      xstatic: You know of Rita Dove and her poetry! I am so pleased and you are all the way across the country in Oregon. She is a great American poet I agree with that! Thank you so much for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      8 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      This is great! I have read a number of Rita Dove's poems but will want to read more now. Your admiration of her is well-placed. She is a great American poet.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Jo: Hi. Yes, I thought it was time to shine a light on this lovely woman and her poetry especially since she is from here in Ohio. I write about so many other poets and her she is in my own back yard. lol Sometimes we miss the obvious. Isn't her poetry great. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments - most appreciated.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      8 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Suzette, an excellent review, a great choice...Rita Dove is new to me, but I have a feeling she is about to become my new best friend :). Thank you for this introduction.

      Have a lovely weekend.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Mhatter: Thank you so much for your kind comments. And thanks for the share. She is truly an inspiring writer.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      LL Woodard: Thank you for reading this. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Minnetonka Twin: Thank you for reading this and I'm glad you enjoyed it. She is amazing as you say. Thanks for the visit - most appreciated.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Exceptional work on this. thank you. FBed

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      8 years ago from Oklahoma City

      An interesting woman, a great mind, exquisite poetry -- and she's from Ohio! Thanks for this bio on Rita Dove.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Rita sounds like an amazing woman and poet. I had never heard of her before and thank you for the introduction. Her writing will live on...

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thanks so much Faith. I think she is pretty amazing. I know to get that medal from the President Obama is really special. But, then she has written so much and done so well she deserves it. Thanks for reading and for your comments, Faith - most appreciated.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      8 years ago from southern USA

      Thanks for such a great write here on Rita Dove, who really is an amazing poet. Can you even imagine receiving the National Medal of Arts from the President! Wow.

      Really enjoyed learning so much about Rita Dove.


      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thanks Bill. Glad you enjoyed this. Yes, she really is a talented poet and author. Your comments are so appreciated. Thanks!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very nice review...thank you for steering me to another talented writer.


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