This blog is certainly a work in progress. Next year I hope to get a jump on National Poetry Month and get information on regional events lined up ahead of April 2015. So since the month is winding down, I’ve decided to write some posts on various poets from the region. Today’s featured poet is Rita Dove.
Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. She was educated at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the University of Tubingen in Germany and the University of Iowa. Her works include The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), and the Pulitzer Prize winning Thomas and Beulah (1986), which tells the story of her grandparents from their early lives in the south up through the Akron, Ohio of the 1960s. Rita Dove has had a productive career, and she’s also held important positions on editorial boards and prize committees. She is currently the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
She has published nine volumes of poetry, a volume of short stories, a book of essays, a play and a novel. Dove also has a deep interest in music—she studied voice as a young woman and worked with composer John Williams on a production called Seven For Luck (1998). Dance is an interest as well. She and her husband, writer Fred Viebahn, are ballroom dancers, and the title poem of her volume American Smooth concerns dance. She served as the United States Poet Laureate from 1993-1995, the first African-American to fill the position since the name was changed from Consultant in Poetry to U.S. Poet Laureate in the mid-eighties. African-American poets Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks had both served as Consultant in Poetry in the latter decades of the twentieth century. She also served as Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004-2006. She has received dozens of honors, including twenty-four honorary doctorates.
Dove recently garnered quite a bit of attention after editing The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century Poetry (2011). Some critics felt Dove had ignored important poets in the service of a democratic-populist agenda, while others came to Dove’s defense and praised the variety and sense of inclusion that informs the work. Whatever feelings people may have about the anthology, I would say Rita Dove has certainly helped stimulate debate about the state of American poetry in our time and the poetry of the past century.
Rita Dove has had a remarkable career, and she’s only sixty-one years old. I’m looking forward to seeing what the years will bring from this deeply gifted writer.