Dove, Rita

Born: 1952

Ohio connection: Birth


The first African American and 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.

Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, into a highly-educated family whose house was full of books. An avid reader and excellent student, she 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 West Germany, later enrolled in the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1977. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Yellow House on the Corner, was published in 1980. One of Dove’s best-known books 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 created works in other genres that include essay, short story, novel, and drama, 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’s other poetry collections include: Museum (1983), Grace Notes (1989), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), Sonata Mulattica (2009), and Playlist for the Apocalypse (2021). 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 making numerous appearances on radio and television. A multiple Ohioana Book Award winner for poetry, Rita Dove is a long-serving juror of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.

A musician and ballroom dancer, Dove has made forays into music. In 1998, her song cycle Seven For Luck was set to music by John Williams and premiered by the Boston Symphony. The following year she collaborated with John Williams and Steven Spielberg on “America’s Millennium” at the Lincoln Memorial. Her song cycle A Standing Witness, with music by Richard Danielpour, was first sung by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham at The Kennedy Center, among other venues, in 2021. 

In 1979, Dove married Fred Viebahn, a German-born novelist. They live in Virginia, where Dove is a Professor of English at the University of Virginia. 


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.

Additional Resources

Wikipedia Article: Rita Dove