Rita Frances Dove was born to Ray Dove, an industrial chemist, and his wife, Elvira Hord Dove, a homemaker. Their families had migrated from the South hoping to make better lives for their children in the North, and Dove benefited from their efforts. She grew up in integrated, middle-class suburbia and was educated in its public school systems. At home, her parents kept television to a minimum while encouraging education and a life of the mind.
Like her father, Dove displayed a particularly keen talent for mathematics and the sciences early in life, memories of which sometimes appear obliquely in such poems as “Flash Cards,” which begins “In math I was the whiz kid, keeper/ of oranges and apples. What you don’t understand,/ master, my father said: the faster/ I answered, the faster they came.” She proved to be a good student through high school and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduating summa cum laude in 1973. Following graduation, she studied in West Germany at Universität Tübingen as a Fulbright fellow. She returned to the United States in 1975 to enter the University of Iowa’s master of fine arts degree program, taking her degree in 1977.
After receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that allowed her to focus on her poetry, Dove returned to West Germany as a fellow of the International Working Period for Authors. While there, she met and married German novelist Fred Viebahn, who encouraged Dove to explore her capacities for prose and helped her find employment writing for European radio. Although she had been publishing her poems individually in distinguished literary journals since 1974, she did not come to prominence until l980, when her first full-length collection, The Yellow House on the Corner, was published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press as part of its prestigious poetry series. Dove and her husband returned to the United States in 1981 when she accepted a position as assistant professor in Arizona State University’s creative writing program. Dove spent a semester in 1982 as writer-in-residence at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, her first prolonged period living in the Deep South.
It was here that a later work germinated, The Darker Face of the Earth, a verse drama retelling of the Oedipus legend set on an antebellum plantation in South Carolina. Afterward she returned to her home in...
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