Rita Dove Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Rita Dove acknowledges that her writing is influenced by a range of experiences. Consequently, Dove consistently avoids being pigeonholed. As an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she spent a year on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Tübingen, in West Germany, where she realized that a writer cannot have a limited view of the world. Although her earlier work was influenced by African American writers of the 1960’s, she stands apart from African American writers who write primarily of the politics of ethnicity. Well-educated, Dove allows her poetry to reflect her wide interests. Many poems allude to the visual arts and music. Poems in Museum discuss Catherine of Alexandria, Catherine of Siena, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Giovanni Boccaccio. The cross-cultural thrust of her writing is indicative of the influence that Dove’s European experience had on her.

Dove’s poetry uses family history as raw material. In Thomas and Beulah, Dove mixes fact and imagination to describe the lives of her maternal grandparents. A book-length narrative, the story of her family employs two separate points of view, that of her grandfather and that of her grandmother. Race is central to the story, but Dove focuses on the relationship that they had, in spite of the difference between their families. Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the volume shows her concern with the voices of ordinary people. Through these lives she addresses more communal concerns. Dove’s work acknowledges the existence of race problems but allows the human spirit to triumph.

Marriage to Fred Viebahn in 1979 produced one daughter, Aviva Chantal Tamu Dove-Viebahn. Dove’s poetry of the time explores mother-daughter relationships, especially when the child is biracial. Such poems are evident in Grace Notes. Dove experiments with other literary forms. She has produced a verse play, short stories, and a novel. Through the Ivory Gate, her first novel, explores the interplay between autobiography and artifice. Virginia King, a character reflecting Dove’s experiences, returns to Akron to work with young students. Learning the stories of her family confirms Virginia in her desire for a career in the theater.

In 1993, Dove became poet laureate of the United States. In that role, she worked with emerging writers, encouraging them to gain the breadth and depth of experience that would fuel their writing.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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...

(The entire section is 154 words.)