Rita Dove was born in the highly industrialized city of Akron, Ohio, on August 28, 1952. On her mother’s side, her family had well-established roots in this northern urban center, and they had achieved a certain level of comfort and prosperity. Her father’s side of the family had moved to the North during the great migration of African Americans that took place in the years after World War I. Brought up in a strict but loving environment, Rita Dove became a precocious and highly inquisitive young student. Her first attempt at writing was a childhood story titled “The Rabbit with a Droopy Ear.” The young author solved the rabbit’s problem and straightened his ear by having him hang upside down from a tree.
The city of Akron left a deep and lasting impression on Dove’s mind. The parks and hilly streets, the Goodyear rubber and tire factories, and the Quaker Oats oatmeal plant all became graphic images that she employed in the poetry and fiction of her mature life. In a real sense, Dove never left Akron.
After completing high school in Akron, Dove moved to the college town of Oxford, Ohio, to continue her education at Miami University. The surrounding countryside, with its barns and silos and its abundant corn and bean fields, also left her with vivid memories that she would later use in her writing. After her graduation from Miami University, Dove moved to Germany to continue her studies at the Universität Tübingen. While in Germany, she met her husband, the novelist Fred Viebahn, with whom she had a daughter, Aviva. She returned to the United States to study at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. In 1977, she received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Iowa and joined the ranks of the...
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The character of Virginia King of Through the Ivory Gate offers an important clue to the understanding of Dove’s work. As Virginia cradles the cello to her body, she experiences the pure physical reality of the instrument—its contours, its weight, and its musical reverberations—but she is also transported by the purely intellectual pleasure of the music she is making. In like manner, she is deeply attracted to the physical beauty of Terence (as she was to Clayton, her first, ill-fated lover). With each man, though, the physical intimacy is merely a prelude to emotional transcendence: “When he touched her again their bodies merged into one long, yearning curve, and the sea rose up to meet them.” Like her creator, Virginia is living proof that art and life are not at distant removes from each other. What Dove has shown, again and again, is that art is the most passionate and enduring expression of life itself. And the creation of art, often represented as music, merges in her later work with her notion of motherhood, that kind of nurturance that is creativity itself.
Born in 1952 in Akron, Ohio, Rita Francis Dove is the daughter of Ray Dove and Elvira (Hord) Dove. She received a B.A. in 1973 from Miami University (Ohio) and then studied modern European literature at the University of Tübingen, Germany, on a Fulbright Fellowship. She returned to the United States to earn an M.F.A. at the highly regarded Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1977. She held a number of teaching posts and traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East, later becoming a professor of English at the University of Virginia. During the summer of 1998, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed her song cycle of a woman’s life, Seven for Luck, with music by John Williams. From January, 2000, to...
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