On Thursday, October 27, the English department will be hosting a reading by world-renowned poet Rita Dove at Western’s Performing Arts Center’s Concert Hall.
Dove is best known as the youngest— and first African-American female— poet laureate, a post that she held from 1993 to 1995. She is, however, much more than just the recipient of one of the United State’s highest honors in arts and letters.
The Dove story starts in Akron, Ohio, where she was born the daughter of the first black chemist to break through the race barrier of the tire industry. In high school, Dove was invited to the White House as a presidential scholar, one of the hundred most outstanding students in the United States. After that, she attended Miami University in Ohio as a national merit scholar, and eventually graduated summa cum laude. Afterwards, she was a Fulbright scholar in Tübingen, Germany, which was then followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree from the prestigious Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.
This was just the beginning of her astounding career.
Since the beginning of her education, she has published an impressive library, including titles such as The Yellow House on the Corner, Thomas and Beulah, Grace Notes, and On The Bus With Rosa Parks. These books have garnered her massive critical acclaim.
“She’s won just about everything there is to win,” said Bruce Beasley, a poet and professor in the English department. In addition to her status as Poet Laureate, she has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Humanities Center, as well as the 1986 Lavan Younger Poet Award, 1987 General Electric Foundation Award, the 1988 Ohio Governor’s Award In The Arts, “Literary Lion” and “Library Lion” medals from the New York Public Library, the 1987 Pulitzer— which made her the second African-American poet ever to win the Pulitzer— and 21 honorary doctorates.
So, what is it about her that has garnered all these awards?
“She’s a very important poet,” said Oliver de la Paz, a poetry professor in the English department who will be introducing Dove at her reading. He went on to explain that she has taken risks in her poetry that have “given permission” for other poets to take similar risks, including de la Paz himself.
In addition to poetry, Dove works in many other fields.
“She’s not a poet with a capital ‘P,’” said de la Paz, meaning that she considers herself more than just a poet. Dove has published novels, books of short stories and essays; written Seven for Luck, a song cycle with music by John Williams that was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra; written the Darker Face of the Earth, a play which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and went on to see nation wide productions; and is an accomplished competitive ballroom dancer.
At the reading Dove is expected to read from her newest book of poetry, American Smooth, which acknowledges her competitive ballroom dancing, as well as the tragedy that started it all. In 1998, the home that Dove shared with her husband, German writer Fred Viebahn, was devastated by a fire. Many of Dove’s original manuscripts went with it. Dove and Viebahn took up competitive ballroom dancing as a way to emotionally heal the wounds that the fire caused. American Smooth is a byproduct of her healing process, but it is also much more. In it are poems that capture the essence of ballroom dances, as well as a complex tangle of emotions associated with the dances and competitions themselves.
Rita Dove will be reading at the Performing Arts Center on October 27, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. A book signing will follow the event. It is free and open to the public, but tickets must be acquired from the PAC Box Office beforehand. There is a two ticket per person limit.
For students who are not able to make the Rita Dove performance, there will be a question and answer session with the poet from 12 to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, October 28 in Frasier Hall 2. This event is not open to the general public and is intended to be a student driven talk with Dove, who will answer questions from the students.