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About this poet

On August 28, 1952, Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio.

Her books of poetry include Collected Poems 1974–2004 (W. W. Norton, 2016), Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009); American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004); On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995); Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993); Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989); Thomas and Beulah (Carnegia-Mellon University Press, 1986), which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983); and The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980).

In addition to poetry, Dove has published a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (University of Kentucky Press, 1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992), essays in The Poet's World and the verse drama The Darker Face of the Earth (Story Line Press, 1994). She also edited The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (Penguin, 2011).

Dove's work traverses a wide range of landscapes, applying an unflinching eye upon historical and political events. In American Smooth, she reflects on her experiences with ballroom dancing. "For Dove, dance is an implicit parallel to poetry," said Emily Nussbaum in The New York Times review of the collection. "Each is an expression of grace performed within limits; each an art weighted by history but malleable enough to form something utterly new." Her latest work, Sonata Mulattica, is a poetic treatise on the life of nineteenth-century, biracial violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower and his friendship with Ludwig van Beethoven.

Dove served as poet laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995, and as poet laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2006 Common Wealth Award, the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2009 International Capri Award, and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, as well as twenty-five honorary doctorates, the most recent of which she received from Yale University in 2014. She is also an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the 1996 National Humanities Medal, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of the Arts. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011.

Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she has been teaching since 1989. 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009)
American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004)
On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999)
Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995)
Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993)
Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989)
Thomas and Beulah (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986)
Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983)
The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980)

Fiction

Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992)
Fifth Sunday (University of Kentucky Press, 1985)

 

Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove

late, in aqua and ermine, gardenias
scaling her left sleeve in a spasm of scent,
her gloves white, her smile chastened, purse giddy
with stars and rhinestones clipped to her brilliantined hair,
on her free arm that fine Negro,
Mr. Wonderful Smith.

It’s the day that isn’t, February 29th,
at the end of the shortest month of the year—
and the shittiest, too, everywhere
except Hollywood, California,
where the maid can wear mink and still be a maid,
bobbing her bandaged head and cursing
the white folks under her breath as she smiles
and shoos their silly daughters
in from the night dew … what can she be
thinking of, striding into the ballroom
where no black face has ever showed itself
except above a serving tray?

Hi-Hat Hattie, Mama Mac, Her Haughtiness,
the “little lady” from Showboat whose name
Bing forgot, Beulah & Bertha & Malena
& Carrie & Violet & Cynthia & Fidelia,
one half of the Dark Barrymores—
dear Mammy we can’t help but hug you crawl into
your generous lap tease you
with arch innuendo so we can feel that
much more wicked and youthful
and sleek but oh what

we forgot: the four husbands, the phantom
pregnancy, your famous parties, your celebrated
ice box cake. Your giggle above the red petticoat’s rustle,
black girl and white girl walking hand in hand
down the railroad tracks
in Kansas City, six years old.
The man who advised you, now
that you were famous, to “begin eliminating”
your more “common” acquaintances
and your reply (catching him square
in the eye): “That’s a good idea.
I’ll start right now by eliminating you.”

Is she or isn’t she? Three million dishes,
a truckload of aprons and headrags later, and here
you are: poised, between husbands
and factions, no corset wide enough
to hold you in, your huge face a dark moon split
by that spontaneous smile—your trademark,
your curse. No matter, Hattie: It’s a long, beautiful walk
into that flower-smothered standing ovation,
so go on
and make them wait.

From Collected Poems 1974-2004, W.W. Norton & Co., 2016. Copyright © 2016 by Rita Dove. Reprinted by permission of Rita Dove.

From Collected Poems 1974-2004, W.W. Norton & Co., 2016. Copyright © 2016 by Rita Dove. Reprinted by permission of Rita Dove.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Rita Dove served as the US Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995 and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011.

by this poet

poem

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have 
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I

2
poem

As if the lid stayed put on the marmalade.
As if you could get the last sip of champagne
out of the bottom of the fluted glass.
As if we weren’t all dying, as if we all weren’t
going to die some time, as if we knew for certain
when, or how. As if the baseball scores made sense
to the

poem

If music be the food of love, play on. 

This is the house that music built:
each note a fingertip’s purchase,
rung upon rung laddering

across the unspeakable world. 
As for those other shrill facades,
rigged-for-a-day porticos

composed to soothe regiments
of eyes

2