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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Rita Dove
(b. 1952)

Former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove has an international poetic vision. The settings of her enigmatic lyrics move from Ohio to Germany to Israel; the time frames shift from the present to a past both historical and personal. In a single volume, slaves, biblical characters, mythological figures, and members of Dove’s own family stand side by side. Although she has been rightly celebrated as an eloquent African American female voice, her frequently shifting viewpoint suggests that she sees her work transcending race and gender as well as time and place.

Born in 1952 in Akron, Ohio, Dove was the second of four children in a middle-class family. Both her paternal grandfather and her father worked for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron. Her father, Ray Dove, earned a master’s degree and became the company’s first black chemist, though at the time of his oldest daughter’s birth he was still restricted to running the company elevator.

Rita Dove attended the public schools in Akron and then enrolled at Miami University in Ohio, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1973. She then attended the University of Tübingen on a Fulbright Scholarship and earned an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1977.

Dove’s poetry is grounded in reality yet capable of sky-high buoyancy. Her oblique, sometimes otherworldly metaphors indicate a literary kinship with contemporary Scandinavian poets such as Tomas Tranströmer. In her poems (“Ö,” for instance), language itself often appears to be a form of salvation. As Dove put it in a 1991 interview, “I think one reason I became primarily a poet rather than a fiction writer is that though I am interested in stories, I am profoundly fascinated by the ways in which language can change your perceptions.”

In 1987 Dove won the Pulitzer Prize for Thomas and Beulah, a sequence of poems about her grandparents’ courtship, marriage, and subsequent life in Akron. More recently, she has published a sonnet sequence based on the Persephone myth, Mother Love (1995); a verse drama, The Darker Face of the Earth (1994, rev. ed. 1996), an Oedipal tale set in antebellum South Carolina; and a collection of lyrics, On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999). In addition to verse, she has published short stories, essays, and a novel.

A resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Hilary Holladay
University of Massachusetts, Lowell

In the Heath Anthology
Kentucky, 1833 (1980)
Ö (1980)
Daystar (1986)
The Oriental Ballerina (1986)

Other Works
The Yellow House on the Corner (1980)
Museum (1983)
Fifth Sunday (1985)
Thomas and Beulah (1986)
Grace Notes (1989)
Through the Ivory Gate (1992)

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Modern American Poetry
An interview, criticism (by Dove and others), and links.

Rita Dove
Offers a comprehensive list of Dove's writings and accomplishments.

The Academy of American Poets
Exhibit offering a biography, links, and texts of Adolescence II and The Bistro Styx.

The Rita Dove HomePage
Provides a brief biography and links.

Secondary Sources

Helen Vendler, The Given and the Made: Strategies of Poetic Definition, 1995

Kevin Stein, Private Poets, Worldly Acts: Public and Private History in Contemporary American Poetry, 1997

Jacqueline Vaught Brogan and Cordelia Chavez Candelaria, eds., Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering, 1999

Therese Steffen, Crossing Color: Transcultural Space and Place in Rita Dove's Poetry, Fiction, and Drama, 2000