Rita Dove was born in 1952 in the industrial city of Akron, Ohio. After studying English, German and Music at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study European Literature at the University of Tübingen. Dove went on to study, and later teach, Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. In 1977 she accompanied her future husband, Fred Viebahn, to Oberlin, Ohio, where she worked as a freelance writer. After living in Germany and Israel for two years she returned to the U.S. in 1981 to teach at Arizona State University in Tempe and from 1989 on at the University of Virginia, holding the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English since 1993. Dove is a member of the Academy of American Poets and of the American PEN.She lives with her husband and daughter Aviva in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Dove began publishing her poems in magazines and anthologies in 1974. In 1980 she made her book debut with a collection of poems, ‘The Yellow House on the Corner’.
After publishing a further poetry volume, ‘Museum’, and a collection of short stories, ‘Fifth Sunday’, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for ‘Thomas and Beulah’ in 1987. In 1993 she was appointed United States Poet Laureate and Consultant to the Library of Congress. In 2005 she was awarded the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service. In addition to further poetry volumes (such as ‘Grace Notes’ 1989, ‘Mother Love’ 1995, ‘On the Bus with Rosa Parks’ 1999), Dove published the novel ‘Through the Ivory Gate'(1992), and the drama ‘The Darker Face of the Earth’, which had its first European performance in 1999 at the Royal National Theatre in London. Her song lyrics, ‘Seven for Luck’ in a score for soprano and orchestra by John Williams, premiered in 1998.
Rita Dove is one of the African-American authors whose literary concern with the history of her race goes far beyond a current political and private background. “They are poems about humanity and sometimes humanity happens to be black” is how she comments on her work. This approach is illustrated in ‘Thomas and Beulah’, a collection of 44 interrelated poems, in which Dove describes, from the fictional perspectives of her grandparents, ordinary people’s daily life against the background of historical events between the early 1900’s and the late 1960’s. Neither as a female nor as a black person, Dove explains, she felt represented in American history of those days, which was a major motivation for her to artistically define her and her people’s place in 20th century history, inspired by her own individual perceptions and experiences.
“Where is the word, the talisman to hold against the world?” she asks in her poem ‘The Other Side of the House’. The magic of the precise, original word with the power to change reality clashes with the destructive power of the instrumentalized word. Dove traces the course of this virtually indefinable boundary in one of her most powerful poems, ‘Parsley’, which she recited at President Clinton’s first State Dinner at the White House in 1993. How the appreciation of melodious sound, which pervades Dove’s poetry under the influence of music and rhythm, can be perverted is demonstrated by the genocide perpetrated by a dictator who victimizes people with speech impediments.
© international literature festival berlin