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Rita Dove

Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita DoveRita Dove was Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Thomas and Beulah.  She is an artist who weaves African-American experience into the broader perspective of international culture. Dove's lyrical and accessible poetry reflects the author's interest in music and drama, as well as her commitment to social justice and her sensitivity to women's issues.

When Rita Dove was appointed poet laureate in 1993, she was forty years old, the youngest poet ever to be elected to that honorary position. She was also the first poet laureate to see the appointment as a mandate to generate public interest in the literary arts. Dove is the second African-American poet laureate, after Gwendolyn Brooks' tenure in the mid-1980s,

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. Her mother, Elvira Hord, had achieved honors in high school and would share her passion for reading with her daughter. In 1970 Rita Dove 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.

After high school graduation, Dove attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and was 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. Rita Dove 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 while working on her Masters. The couple 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. The poems in this collection are loosely based on the lives of Dove's maternal grandparents and are arranged in two sequences: one devoted to Thomas, born in 1900 in Wartrace, Tennessee, and the other to Beulah, born in 1904 in Rockmart, Georgia. Thomas and Beulah is viewed as a departure from Dove's earlier works in both its accessibility and its chronological sequence that has, to use Dove's words, "the kind of sweep of a novel." On the book's cover is a snapshot of a black couple in Akron, Ohio, in the 1940s (actually depicting not the author's grandparents, but an aunt and uncle).

African American pulitzer prize writer of Thomas and Beulah, Rita DoveThe 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. Essential Theatre of Atlanta, Georgia, is featuring The Darker Face of the Earth in its 12th Annual Essential Play Festival in July-August 2010.

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.

Besides her Pulitzer Prize, Rita Dove has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them 22 honorary doctorates, the 1996 National Humanities Medal / Charles Frankel Prize, the 3rd Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities in 1997, and most recently, the 2006 Commonwealth Award of Distinguished Service in Literature, the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the 2009 Premio Capri (Italy). From 1994-2000 she was a senator (member of the governing board) of the national academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and she is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Actors & Directors

Diahann Carroll   Don Cheadle   Bill Cosby   Dorothy Dandridge   Ruby Dee   Laurence Fishburne   Morgan Freeman   Gregory Hines Samuel Jackson   Spike Lee    Hattie McDaniel    Tyler Perry   Sidney Poitier    Cicily Tyson   Ben Vereen   Denzel Washington   Oprah Winfrey


Jean-Michel Basquiat   Thornton Dial   Florida Highwaymen   Jacob Lawrence    Horace Pippin   Henry Tanner   James Van Der Zee

Singers and Musicians

Louis Armstrong      Marian Anderson      Count Basie       Harry Belafonte    Chuck Berry      Bobby "Blue" Bland      James Brown    Cab Calloway     Benny Carter     Ray Charles     Nat King Cole      John Coltrane    Sam Cooke   Miles Davis   Sammy Davis Jr.  Duke Ellington     Ella Fitzgerald     Aretha Franklin    Marvin Gaye     Dizzy Gillespie    W.C. Handy    Jimi Hendrix     Lauryn Hill    Billie Holiday      Lena Horne     Mahalia Jackson      Michael Jackson    Quincy Jones      B.B. King      Eartha Kitt     LL Cool J     Jelly Roll Morton   Charlie Parker   Prince   Bessie Smith   Fats Waller


Maya Angelou   James Baldwin    Imamu Amiri Baraka    Gwendolyn Bennett   Ed Bradley   Gwendolyn Brooks   William Wells Brown   Octavia Butler     Charles W. Chesnutt     Countee Cullen   Rita Dove    W.E.B. Du Bois      Paul Laurence Dunbar     Ralph Ellison   Olaudah Equiano    Jessie Fauset   Ernest Gaines   Nikki Giovanni   Alex Haley   Lorraine Hansberry    Robert Hayden   Bell Hooks    Langston Hughes    Zora Hurston    James Weldon Johnson   Robert Maynard   Claude McKay   Terry McMillian   Toni Morrison   Walter Mosley      Lucy Terry     Wallace Henry Thurman    Jean Toomer     Alice Walker   Dorothy West     Phillis Wheatley    August Wilson   Harriet Wilson    Richard Wright

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