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Texas State University
Texas State University

Rita Dove

Former Poet Laureate of the United States
Tuesday, March 10, 1998 · Evans Auditorium · 7:30 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove was appointed poet laureate of the United States and consultant in poetry at the Library of Congress in 1993. She was the youngest person and the first African American poet to receive the highest honor in American letters. She held the position for two years.

Born in Akron, Ohio in 1952, she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English in 1973 from the Miami University of Ohio. She studied for a year on a Fulbright scholarship at Universität Tübingen in Germany before joining the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, where she earned her master of fine arts degree in 1977. In 1976 she met her husband, German writer Fred Biebahn, who was a Fulbright Fellow there that year.

She published her first poetry collection, The Yellow House on the Corner, in 1980, and it was followed by Museum in 1983 and Thomas and Buelah in 1986. It was the latter publication, a collection of loosely interrelated poems based on her grandparents' lives, that earned her the 1987 Pulitzer Prize, making her only the second African-American poet (after Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950) to receive this honor.

In 1993, Dove was named one of the ten Outstanding Women of the Year by Glamour magazine, and the NAACP honored her with its Great American Artist Award. She received the Folger Shakespeare Library's Renaissance Fomm Award for leadership in literary arts and a Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement in 1994.

She received the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, one of the largest individual achievement prizes in the world, and a 1996 Charles Frankel Prize, the U.S. government's highest honor for writers and scholars in the humanities.

Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989 and became the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

—Adapted from the original event program distributed at Rita Dove's LBJ Distinguished Lecture

“It’s like all things, I think, important to one, they begin almost by accident and they begin very small. When I was a child, the thing I liked to do most of all was escape what I was supposed to do. That’s I think one of the laws of childhood: to escape what you’re supposed to do. The moments I remember most are the moments I snatched from, times I was supposed to be doing chores, or reading.”

“People will ask me what is a suitable subject for a poem. And I’ve never known how to answer that question because I think the whole world is a suitable subject for a poem. I can never predict when a poem is going to strike, when I’m going to be forced to sit down and write it out and what will interest me.”