Each time poet and Akron native Rita Dove speaks in Northeast Ohio, she begins with an acknowledgement of home. Her trip to Cleveland this past September was particularly rich in the significance of place.
“It’s been like one huge family reunion,” she said, smiling wide at the audience assembled at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on the Case Western Reserve University campus.
More than 600 people sat entranced for “An Evening With Rita Dove and Friends,” a celebration of the Anisfield-Wolf juror’s three decades of literary prominence. One of them was Harvard Sociologist Orlando Patterson, who said the following evening, “Last night I witnessed the extraordinary cultural presence of black America in our cultural life as I sat with the largest and most integrated audience I have ever seen, listening in rapt attention and near reverence to Rita Dove reading her glorious American poems.”
The evening of verse commemorated the 30th anniversary of “Thomas & Beaulah,” Dove’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, and this year’s publication of her “Collected Poems.” At 64, Dove has said the new anthology felt like “a tombstone,” but that she has come to appreciate having her best poems in one volume.
Dave Lucas, co-founder of Brews + Prose, emceed the evening, cautioning against viewing the evening as a respective. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say, thank you Rita, but we are greedy for much much more.”
Poet Toi Derricotte, who won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for “The Black Notebooks” in 1998, made the trek from Pittsburgh to introduce her friend, sampling and relishing her verse. As the capper, Lucas presented his mentor with a paper bouquet of flowers, carefully constructed from a copy of “Thomas and Beulah.”
“It must have been so difficult to destroy a book, I hope,” Dove remarked as she admired the token, “but it’s so beautiful.”
Watch Dove’s remarks below or click here to watch the entire program.