Black History Month is almost over, but we’ve barely brushed the surface of the influence black authors have had on the literary community.
Rita Frances Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. Her father, Ray Dove, was the first African-American to work in the tire industry as a chemist. Following in her family’s educational footsteps, Dove graduated from high school as a Presidential Scholar and continued to Miami University where she graduated summa cum laude. In 1974, Dove held a Fulbright Scholarship from the German university Eberhard Karls Universitat Tubingen. By 1977, she graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop with an MFA.
Her strong academic success has given Dove 25 honorary doctorates from prestigious institutions like Yale University (2014), Emerson College (2013), and Emory University.
She has published countless poetry collections and novels, many of which Dove has won awards for. Her collection Thomas and Beulah won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 and On the Bus with Rosa Parks was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999. Recently, she won the Stone Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement from Oregon State University in April 2016.
Dove was the first African-American appointed as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress from 1993-95. According to an article on Diane Rehm, following her position as poet laureate and “determined to make her art form accessible to the public, Dove transformed the position into that of poetry ambassador.” From 2004-2006, Dove served as the poet laureate of Virginia.
Dove’s work has brought her recognition from multiple US Presidents. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 1996 from President Bill Clinton. In 2011, Barack Obama awarded Dove the National Medal of Arts.
Rita Dove continues to inspire new generations to be creative and use their voice. As she explains, “without imagination we can go nowhere. And imagination is not restricted to the arts. Every scientist I have met who has been a success has had to imagine.”
Video: Rita Dove discusses influence in this brief excerpt from the Academy of American Poets’ first annual Poets Forum in 2007.