Rita Dove is a former U.S. Poet Laureate (1993-95) with a lifetime of awards and honors. She has written a novel, short stories, essays and many collections of poetry, including “Thomas and Beulah” (1986), winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Dove was born in Akron, OH, in 1952, and lives in Charlottesville, VA, where she teaches at the University of Virginia. Her 2004 poem "American Smooth," one of her best known pieces, was featured in The New York Times Aug. 4, 2023 in a book feature by Dwight Garner in which he describes the poem as being "about a peak moment between two dance partners. It’s about discipline, mastery, endurance and pain — all in the service of a transcendent instant when the world falls away, when that pain is banished." Dove is an accomplished dancer. She and her husband Fred Viebahn are featured in a series of YouTube videos dancing the Rumba and the Samba.
In an interview on poets.org, Dove described the connection between poetry and dance: "Poetry is a kind of dance already. Technically, there's the play of contemporary speech against the bass-line of the iambic, but there's also the expression of desire that is continually restrained by the limits of the page, the breath, the very architecture of the language–just as dance is limited by the capabilities of our physical bodies as well as by gravity. A dancer toils in order to skim the surface of the floor, she develops muscles most of us don't even know we have; but the goal is to appear weightless. A poet struggles to render into words that which is unsayable–the ineffable, that which is deeper than language–in the hopes that whatever words make the final cut will, in turn, strike the reader speechless."
Dove's many honors include the 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Poetry (the third female and first African American) poet in the medal’s 110-year history, the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, the Wallace Stevens Award, and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal. In 1996, she received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton, and in 2011, the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama—the only poet ever to receive both medals.
[Photo by Fred Viebahn]