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Rita Dove

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English Literature

Rita Dove (1952present) is one of the most accomplished poets of our time. An American poet and essayist, Dove was the first African American United States Poet Laureate (19931995) since the creation of the position in 1937. In 1987, Rita Dove was the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Dove has received many honors and awards and continues to write some of the most insightful political and personal poetry of the modern era.

Rita Doves biography

Throughout her life, Rita Dove has received some of the greatest honors a poet can achieve during their lifetime. Dove is, however, a very down-to-earth person and comes from an everyday background.

Rita Doves early life

Rita Francis Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952. Her parents, Ray Dove (one of the first Black chemists to work in the tire industry) and Elvira Hord, encouraged Doves creative pursuits and shared their love of reading with her. Due to her parents support, Dove, a self-proclaimed shy child, excelled in school and graduated as a Presidential Scholar. Dove received her B.A. in English from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she was a National Merit Scholar. Shortly after her graduation, she was named a Fulbright Scholar and received a full scholarship to study at Tübingen University in Germany.

In 1977, Rita Dove received her MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers Workshop. On that occasion, Dove met German writer Fred Viebahn, and the couple married in 1979. In 1983, they had a daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn. Dove and Viebahn spent extensive periods of time in different countries, including Germany, Israel, and Ireland. They adore ballroom dancing and even have a studio at their house in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rita Doves career

Rita Dove made her literary debut in 1980 with her poetry collection, The Yellow House on the Corner. This book presented the world with Doves distinctive and unique writing style. In 1987, Dove received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her most famous collection, Thomas and Beulah (1986), which is loosely based on the lives of her maternal grandparents. See below for a brief timeline of a few of Doves career successes:

  • 1987: receives the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Thomas and Beulah.

  • 1989: begins teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

  • 19931995: serves as United States Poet Laureate. Dove was the first African American Poet Laureate in the United States and was also, at the time, the youngest poet ever appointed.

  • 19932020: serves as the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

  • 19992000: serves as Special Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in its bicentennial year.

  • 20042006: serves as Poet Laureate of Virginia.

  • 2017: receives NAACP Image Award as well as the Library of Congress award for her poetry collection Collected Poems: 19742004.

Dove has received many more honors and awards, including twenty-eight honorary Doctorate degrees, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, a National Humanities Medal, and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.

Rita Dove today

Rita Dove and her husband, Fred Viebahn, now live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Dove has been a professor of English and Poetry since 1989. She has taught hundreds of students and continues to write poetry. Her most recent collection, Playlist for the Apocalypse, was published in 2021. Dove maintains a focus on the personal nature of teaching and writing. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was known to invite students and professors to her home for poetry workshops, and she teaches with a special commitment to excellence and vigor that comes with a lifetime of artistry.

Additional facts about Rita Dove

The following points highlight the impact that Dove has had on American poetics and the visibility of Black Americans:

  • Dove was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997. Her new book, entitled Playlist for the Apocalypse, has a section detailing her experience with this disease where she discusses how it impacted her life as a writer and mother.

  • Dove and her husband, Fred Viebahn, love ballroom dancing. This love of music and dancing is present in many of Doves poetry collections, including American Smooth (2004) and Playlist for the Apocalypse.

  • Dove is a professor at the University of Virginia, but she has also taught at the University of Arizona and has been a visiting writer at many other institutions of higher education.

  • Doves works changed the course of American writing. Her personal, lyric poems embody both the importance of political involvement, the personal nature of racism, and the experience of being Black in the United States. Her work does not shy away from the ugly history of racism in the U.S. and concentrates on healing from these wounds and moving on into a more equitable future.

Rita Doves writing style

Rita Doves writing style is personal, political, and intimate. Although she has published works in fiction and poetry, her focus remains on poetry. She primarily writes in free verse and has, on several occasions, written in narrative forms (see, for instance, Thomas and Beulah (1986)). Dove writes with vigor and uses sensory imagery and frequent symbolism to depict the experiences of African Americans in the American political landscape. However, she did not begin writing poems on the plight of African Americans until she was in graduate school at the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Rita Dove receiving the National Medal of Arts from Barack Obama.

Poet Rita Dove receives the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, 2012.

Once her book, The Yellow House on the Corner, was published, Dove began to employ a writing style that attempts to bring the political into a personal landscape. Her work concentrates on creative symbolism to depict difficult scenarios.

Dove has written narrative collections, such as Sonata Mulattica (2009), which is a true story about Black prodigal violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower, who had a massive influence on the work of the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Doves distinctive writing style uses concise descriptions that make even the most abstract concept understandable.

Rita Doves books

Below is a list of all the books Rita Dove has published to date. While she is primarily a poet, Dove has also published collections of essays and short stories, a play, and fiction.

Poetry collections1980

The Yellow House on the Corner

Carnegie Mellon Press
1983MuseumCarnegie Mellon Press
1986Thomas and BeulahCarnegie Mellon Press
1989Grace NotesW. W. Norton
1993Selected PoemsPantheon Press
1995Mother LoveW. W. Norton
1999On the Bus with Rosa ParksW. W. Norton
2004America Smooth
2009Sonata Mulattica
2016Collected Poems 19742004
2021Playlist for the Apocalypse
Essay collection1995The Poets WorldThe Library of Congress
Drama1994The Darker Face of the Earth: A Verse Play in Fourteen ScenesStory Line Press
Novel1992Through the Ivory GatePantheon Press
Short story collection1985Fifth SundayUniversity of Kentucky

Rita Doves poems

The selected poems listed below are works that have become staples in American education and/or are famous for their potency. You can find many recordings of Rita Dove reading her poems in the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress.

One of the ways to remember famous poetry is by memorizing the title and the first line of the poem. Often, when the poem flows well, it will be easier to remember other sections after the first line is already memorized.

Parsley1983, MuseumParsley is about the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937. This poem remains one of Rita Doves most famous works because she read it at the White House. In the Parsley Massacre, the Dominican Republics president, Rafael Trujillo, in a move of anti-Black and anti-Haitian racism, massacred all those in the Dominican Republic who pronounced the word parsley with a French accent.
American Smooth2004, American SmoothThe eponymous poem of Doves collection American Smooth is a joyful poem about two people dancing and being so lost in the music that they dont realize their feet have completely left the ground.
Last Words2021, The New YorkerLast Words is about the concept of dying and coming to terms with it. The speaker references many ways to die and decides that they want death to come like life did, inconvenient and simple.

While many more of Rita Doves poems could have been included in this list, the three listed above are some of her most famous. She has published her poetry on many different platforms, including her own poetry collections, newspapers, and magazines such as The New Yorker.

Rita Dove - Key takeaways

  • Rita Dove is a poet and author born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952.
  • Dove went on to become the United States first African American Poet Laureate and has won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
  • Dove is a lyric poet that concentrates on narrative poetry and uses symbolism and figurative language to make large concepts personal.
  • Dove has written eleven collections of poetry. The most famous collection is Thomas and Beulah, while one of her most famous poems is Parsley.
  • Dove is a professor of English and Creative writing at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lives and works with her husband, Fred Viebahn.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove is an American poet and author who is known for her poetry collections about minorities.

Rita Dove is important for many reasons, including the fact that she was the first African American Poet Laureate of the United States. She also changed the way poetry is written.

Rita Dove was born in 1952.

Rita Dove’s most famous poem is “Parsley.” Her most famous poetry collection is Thomas and Beulah.

Rita Dove lives with multiple sclerosis.

Final Rita Dove Quiz


When was Rita Dove born? 

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How many poetry collections does Rita Dove have? 

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Who is Rita Dove married to?

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Rita Dove is married to German writer Fred Viebahn

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How many children does Rita Dove have? 

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Rita Dove has one daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn

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Where does Rita Dove teach poetry? 

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The University of Virginia

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What position did Rita Dove hold from 1993 to 1995?

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Poet Laureate of the United States

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Rita Dove was the youngest poet to-

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Become the United States Poet Laureate

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What is Rita Dove's most recent book called?

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Playlist for the Apocalypse

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What disease does Rita Dove live with?

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Multiple sclerosis

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What medal did Rita Dove receive in 2012?

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National Medal for the Arts

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