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Rita Dove

University of Virgina

Rita Dove, Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995, has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the 1996 National Humanities Medal from President Clinton and the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Obama, making her the only poet awarded both presidential medals. Other honors include the Wallace Stevens award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2007 Chubb Fellowship at Yale University, the 2006 Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service, the New York Public Library’s Library Lion medal in 2000 (as well as its “Literary Lion” medal in 1990), the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, Glamour magazine’s 1993 Woman of the Year award and 28 honorary doctorates.

Dove was born in Akron in 1952; her father was the first African American research chemist who, shortly after her birth, broke the race barrier in the tire industry. She was a 1970 Presidential Scholar as one of the 100 top high school graduates in the U.S. She received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio in 1973 and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1977. In 1974-75 she held a Fulbright scholarship at Universität Tübingen in Germany.

Dove’s publications include the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner(1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004 and Sonata Mulattica (2009). Other works include a book of short stories Fifth Sunday (1985); the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992); essays under the title The Poet’s World (1995); and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1996 and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and on many other stages. “Seven for Luck ,” a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For “America’s Millennium”, the White House’s 1999/2000 New Year’s celebration, Dove contributed a poem to Steven Spielberg’s documentary “The Unfinished Journey” in a live, globally televised reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams’s music. She edited Best American Poetry 2000, wrote a weekly column, “Poet’s Choice”, for The Washington Post from 2000 to 2002 and edited The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011). From 2018 to 2019, she served as the New York Times Magazine’s poetry editor.

Dove was president of AWP (the Associated Writing Programs) from 1986-87, a senator of Phi Beta Kappa from 1994-2000 and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2006-2012. She is a member of the Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Dove taught at Tuskegee Institute and Arizona State University earlier in her academic carrier. Today, she is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she and her husband, German writer Fred Viebahn, have lived since 1989. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn. She travels often to Akron, site of her Pulitzer-winning collection Thomas and Beulah, inspired in part by the story of her maternal grandparents.