Rita Frances Dove: Modern American Poet

February is Black History Month, a time when some of the most historically influential African-Americans are honored for their achievements and celebrated for the changes they’ve made in this country.

It’s impossible to think about Black History Month without coming across such iconic individuals as Martin Luther King JrLangston Hughes and Harriet Tubman, but there are a lot of other noteworthy individuals out there who are sometimes overlooked. Rita Dove is one of them.

Rita Frances Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. She was ranked among the top one-hundred high school students in the country in 1970 and was named a Presidential Scholar. After graduation from Buchtel High School, she attended Miami University in Ohio, graduating in 1973 summa cum laude (with highest honors).

She then began teaching creative writing at Arizona State University. As it turned out, academics was not her most remarkable feat. It was her poetry that set her apart. In 1987, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In 1993, Rita was namedPoet Laureate of the United States by the Librarian of Congress. Not only was she the youngest person appointed to the position, she was the first and is still the only African-American to date to serve in that office.

One of my favorite poems of hers is Exit, written in 1995.

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
“provisionally”-a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.

It’s a poem I feel I can definitely relate to and really illustrates the feelings of growing up and moving away. All of her poems are very moving, and you can tell she draws from her own personal experiences. Rita Dove doesn’t just write poetry, she also has a collection of short stories titled Fifth Sunday.

She has continued on with her work, serving as the Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1999 and 2000 before being appointed as the Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and lives in Virginia with her family. She also continues to write, and her most recent book, Sonata Mulattica, came out in 2009.

In my opinion, Rita Dove is a great example of someone who took what they love to do and made it into something more than just a hobby. She has blazed a trail for other aspiring poets to follow and continues to raise awareness of the importance of literature. In my opinion, she is one of the great modern american poets. What do you think of her poetry?