From a November 19, 2009 interview with Rita Dove on Bigthink.com. To watch Dove recall her first childhood poem, "The Rabbit With the Droopy Ear," and read aloud her recent poem "The Undressing," please see the full interview at Big Think.
It would be wonderful if we were striving toward a post-racial literature, and certainly the election of Obama is a big step on the way. I think that we shouldn't get complacent and think, "Oh gosh, now we're post-racial." We are not. We haven't had the conversations we need to have about race and privilege and all of that stuff. We're starting, so we're on our way.
One of the things that I've always dreamed of is to have a post-racial literature. You waste so much energy and good talent either trying to insist upon your presence, which is certainly what happened in the Black Arts movement in the sixties, for instance.
You also can waste a lot of energy explaining things, explaining things which are specific to a certain racial culture. In terms of the mainstream, we don't mind looking things up if we don't understand them, but we kind of expect to be clued in on various things that happen in the culture.
One of the things that I have always found frustrating are the little reference points that I might have to explain in a poem that I wouldn't have to explain if it were a mainstream detail. For instance, I know exactly how a white woman would do her hair every morning. I know the washing and the blow-drying and all of that kind of stuff, so that if I see that in a poem, if it were to occur in a poem, then I would have no problem with it. Whereas for me to even to get up and to explain getting up and rushing in—how to do my hair it would require all sorts of glosses. I'd have to say, "Well, yes. There is the hair pomade, and there is the this..."
My hope is that in a post-racial culture, all these kinds of details, we will just assume that we can figure them out, or we will assume that it's something, as we read them, that we'll have to look up—instead of demanding that our writers give us a gloss right in the middle of the poem. I think we're on our way.