With graduation just around the corner, I was curious to see who the commencement speaker would be this year. To my surprise, Former United States Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Rita Dove will be delivering the keynote address. Accordingly, this peaked my interest and I sought to learn more about her.
Rita Dove received her Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poems called Thomas and Beulah, based on the lives of her grandparents. It is written in two parts and accounts for the lasting marriage of Tennessee-born Thomas and Beulah, a Georgia native. They settle in Akron, Ohio, after they joined the Great Migration of Southern blacks to industrial centers of the Midwest. In this work, Dove is noted for dotting a seemingly simple marriage with racial and historical commentary. Furthermore, Dove was named US Poet Laureate in 1993 and served until 1995. At just forty years old, she was the youngest poet ever elected to the position. Additionally, she was also the first African American to hold the title (since the title was changed from Consultant of Poetry which Gwendolyn Brooks held).
Another significant contribution of hers to American poetry was her editing of The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. We spoke about this in class with regards to heated controversy that it provoked. In short, she was accused by critic Helen Vendler for including too many poets ( and insignificant ones at that).
Dove’s writing is known for its lyricism as well as its sense of history and political scope. That being said, her list of literary works is not restricted to poetry. In addition to nine volumes of poetry, she has published a book of short stories (Fifth Sunday), a collection of essays (The Poet’s World,), and a novel (Through the Ivory Gate).
Some examples of her work can be found in the links below:
“I have been a stranger in a strange land”
Reading of “American Smooth”