Born: August 28, 1952
Ohio connection: Birth
The first African American, as well as the youngest individual, to be awarded the post of United States poet laureate (1993-95), Rita Dove desires to make poetry more appealing to the general reader. She was born on August 28, 1952, in Akron, Ohio, into a highly-educated family whose house was full of books. An avid reader and excellent student, Dove was named a Presidential Scholar in 1970 and earned a national merit scholarship to Miami University, graduating summa cum laude in 1973. She received a Fulbright fellowship to study in W. Germany, then enrolled in the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, earning a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa in 1977. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Yellow House on the Corner, was published in 1980. Dove’s best-known book of poems, Thomas and Beulah, is based loosely on the lives of her maternal grandparents and tells two sides of the same story. The title won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In addition to poetry, Dove has made forays into short story, novel, and drama writing, using the form that best suits her message. Most of her work is set in the past and exhibits her ability to combine the personal with the historical. Dove draws on African-American experiences, yet presents issues that transcend racial boundaries. Her poetry is known for being lyrical and accessible, demonstrating a mastery of word and form. Dove used her appointment as poet laureate to generate public interest in the literary arts. She has traveled widely, giving readings in a variety of venues, and made numerous appearances on radio and television. In 1979, Dove married Fred Viebahn, a German-born novelist, and they have one daughter. They live in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Dove is a Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Rita Dove is a long-serving juror of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.
Fulbright fellow, 1974-75; grants from National Endowment for the Arts, 1978, and Ohio Arts Council, 1979; International Working Period for Authors fellow for West Germany, 1980; Portia Pittman fellow at Tuskegee Institute, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1982; John Simon Guggenheim fellow, 1983; Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award, Academy of American Poets, 1986; Pulitzer Prize in poetry, 1987, for Thomas and Beulah; General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers, 1987; Bellagio (Italy) residency, Rockefeller Foundation, 1988; Ohio Governor’s Award, 1988; Mellon fellow, National Humanities Center, North Carolina, 1988-89; Ohioana Award, 1991, for Grace Notes; Literary Lion medal, New York Public Libraries, 1991; inducted Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, 1991; appointed Poet Laureate of the United States, 1993-94 and 1994-95; Women of the Year Award, Glamour magazine, 1993; Great American Artist Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1993; Harvard University Phi Beta Kappa Lecturer, 1993; Distinguished Achievement medal, Miami University Alumni Association, 1994; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1994; Renaissance Forum Award for leadership in the literary arts, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1994; Carl Sandburg Award, International Platform Association, 1994; Fund for New American Plays grant, 1995; Heinz award in arts and humanities, 1996; Charles Frankel Prize/National Humanities Medal in the Humanities, 1996; Levinson Prize, Poetry magazine, 1998; Library Lion medal, New York Public Library, 2000. Awarded honorary literary doctorates from: Miami University, 1988, Knox College, 1989, Tuskegee University, 1994, University of Miami, 1994, Washington University–St. Louis, 1994, Case Western Reserve University, 1994, University of Akron, 1994, Arizona State University, 1995, Boston College, 1995, Dartmouth College, 1995, Spelman College, 1996, University of Pennsylvania, 1996, Notre Dame, 1997, Northeastern University, 1997, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, 1997, Columbia University, 1998, State University of New York-Brockport, 1999, Washington and Lee University, 1999, Howard University, 2001, and Pratt Institute, 2001. She was elected a chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 2006.