Martha Rhodes



Poems By Rita Dove

The Bridgetower

Demeter, Waiting

The House Slave




Recipient of many of the nation’s highest cultural honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, the NAACP Great American Artist Award, a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Humanities Medal, Rita Dove is an American treasure. She served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993-1995, the youngest person ever to be elected to that office. As the second African-American Poet Laureate, after Gwendolyn Brooks' tenure in the mid-1980s, Dove noted in the Washington Post that her appointment was "significant in terms of the message it sends about the diversity of our culture and our literature."

Dove's body of work has won wide critical praise and reflects her interest in music and drama, as well as her commitment to social justice and her sensitivity to women's issues. As she explained in the Washington Post: "Obviously, as a black woman, I am concerned with race. . . . But certainly not every poem of mine mentions the fact of being black. They are poems about humanity, and sometimes humanity happens to be black. I cannot run from, I won't run from any kind of truth." Dove’s “magnificent poems pay homage to our kaleidoscopic cultural heritage,” writes The Kansas City Star.

A writer of startling breadth, Dove has published six collections of poetry, including  Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), and, in addition, she is the author of a book of short stories, a novel, a volume of essays, and the play The Darker Face of the Earth. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. She is the editor of Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice", for The Washington Post.

Dove’s most recent book of poems, Sonata Mulattica (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009),
dramatizes the life of violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780-1860). Son of a European woman and a self-proclaimed “African Prince,” the child prodigy dazzled the courts of Europe with his playing, and so impressed Beethoven that he dashed off a wildly difficult sonata for piano and violin and named it after the boy. The two played the piece publicly for the first time in Vienna in 1803; but as a result of a quarrel over a woman, it was renamed the “Kreutzer” Sonata, and the young violinist faded into obscurity. “Dove’s richly imagined book,” writes Mark Doty, “has the sweep and vivid characters of a novel but it’s written with a poet’s economy and eye for exact detail.”

Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband, German writer Fred Viebahn.






    Poetry Center Reading:
    Fall 2010