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Rita Dove was the youngest person and the first African-American to be appointed Consultant in Poetry at the library of Congress. In 1993 she was chosen as Poet Laureate of the United States and in 2004 as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Born in Akron Ohio, Rita showed early promise, being invited to the White House as a Presidential Scholar, chosen as one of the one hundred most outstanding high school graduates for 1970. She graduated summa cum laude from Miami University in Oxford Ohio in 1973, earning her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1977.
Rita’s poetry was already widely recognised through her magazine and anthology publications when she published her first collection, The Yellow House on the Corner (1980). Further collections Museum (1983) and Thomas and Beulah (1986) followed. The last named was awarded the Pulitzer prize for 1987, making her only the second African American poet, and the first for thirty-seven years, to win. Her latest collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published in 2009.
Rita Dove’s public appearances have included a White House state dinner, appearances on CNN, NBC, PBS and NPR. She produced a nationally aired television show introducing elementary school children to poetry, Shine Up Your Words: A Morning with Rita Dove. She has acted as narrator for an NPR program about Billie Holliday and also for Tell About the South, a three part series on writing from the American south. She has made repeated appearances on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion and even appeared with Big Bird on Sesame Street.
Rita has been president of the Associated Writing Programs (the Association for creative writers working as academics in America) and is Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is a member of many prestigious literary and cultural organisations, including PEN New York and Los Angeles, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Scientists and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
Callaloo, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, and TriQuarterly are all literary periodicals to which an advisory editor. She also sits on the advisory boards of the Thomas Jefferson Centre for Freedom of Expression and Student Achievement & Advocacy Services, a non-profit organisation. She chaired the National Endowment for the Arts poetry panel in 1985, and in 1997 she chaired the Pulitzer Prize poetry jury.
In 1993 Rita Dove was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, making her the youngest person — and the first African-American — to receive this highest official honor in American letters. She held the position for two years. In 1999 she was reappointed Special Consultant in Poetry for 1999/2000, the Library of Congress′s bicentennial year, and in 2004 Virginia governor Mark Warner appointed her as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a two year position.
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. In 1970 she 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, before attending Miami University in Oxford, Ohio as 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. She 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 that year; they 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.
Rita Dove has read her poetry at a White House state dinner, was featured on CNN, on NBC′s Today Show, in a Bill Moyer′s Journal prime time special on PBS dedicated to her and her work and, also on PBS, on the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour (in an interview with Charleyne Hunter-Goult), the Charlie Rose Show, and Dennis Wholey′s This is America. She produced, in collaboration with the Library of Virginia, Shine Up Your Words: A Morning with Rita Dove, a nationally televised one hour television show with elementary school children about poetry, narrated an NPR program on Billie Holiday and the three part PBS documentary on Southern literature, Tell About the South, filmed a segment with Big Bird for Sesame Street, and appeared repeatedly on Garrison Keillor′s public radio program “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Rita Dove is past president (1986-87) of the Associated Writing Programs (the association of creative writers in American academia) and currently (2006 to 2012) a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is a member both of New York-based PEN American Center and Los Angeles-based PEN USA, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers, among other literary and cultural organizations. From 1994 to 2000 she served as senator of the national academic association Phi Beta Kappa, and from 1994 to 2001 she was a member of the Golden Plate Awards Council of the American Academy of Achievement.
She is advisory editor to the literary periodicals Callaloo, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, and TriQuarterly (among others), has been a Poets′ Corner Elector at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, and she sits on the advisory boards of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Freedom of Expression and of the non-profit organization Student Achievement & Advocacy Services. She has chaired the National Endowment for the Arts poetry panel (in 1985) and the Pulitzer Prize jury in poetry (in 1997), and she edited the anthology The Best American Poetry 2000. From January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, “The Poet′s Choice,” for The Washington Post.
Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W. W. Norton in the spring of 2009.
“We still seem to be starving for communication." Rita Dove explains how literature, and poetry in particular, can open up the channels of communication in society.
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