Rita Dove

poet laureate icon
1952 –
Special Bicentennial Consultant in Poetry, 2000; Poet Laureate of the United States, 1993–1995

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, on August 28, 1952. A poet and writer, she was a high school Presidential Scholar and graduated with a BA in English from Miami University of Ohio in 1973. She then studied German poetry as a Fulbright Scholar at Universität Tübingen before getting an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. 

Dove’s books of poetry include Playlist for the Apocalypse (W. W. Norton, 2021); Collected Poems 1974–2004 (W.W. Norton, 2016), recipient of the 2017 NAACP Image Award, the 2017 Library of Virginia Award and a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award; Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009), winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999), named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Thomas and Beulah (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986), which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

In addition to poetry, Dove has published a book of short stories, the novel Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992), and numerous essays. She also edited Best American Poetry (Scribner, 2000), compiled The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (Penguin, 2011), and edited the New York Times Magazine’s weekly poetry column from 2018–19, as well as, in 2000 and 2002, the Washington Post’s weekly “Poet’s Choice” column. 

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. Says Emily Nussbaum of the collection, “For Dove, dance is an implicit parallel to poetry. [...] Each is an expression of grace performed within limits; each an art weighted by history but malleable enough to form something utterly new.” Regarded as her most ambitious work to date, 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’s many other honors include the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2006 Commonwealth Award, the 2007 Chubb Fellowship at Yale University, 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, the 2017 Callaloo Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2019 North Star Award from the Hurston/Wright Foundation, as well as twenty-eight honorary doctorates, among them from Yale University in 2014 and Harvard University in 2018. She is 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 Arts, making her the only poet who has received both medals. She served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2005 to 2011. In 2019, Dove received the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually by the Academy of American Poets to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. In 2022, she won the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also been awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the organization’s lifetime achievement award. 

Dove served as poet laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995, and as poet laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She is a trained classical cellist and violist da gamba. She currently serves as the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ vice president for literature and the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, where she has been teaching since 1989.