Rita 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).