Poet, author, and educator Rita Dove is the nation’s first Black United States Poet Laureate, although some historians would give that distinction to Robert Hayden. However, Dove is the first to hold what was previously known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress position before it was changed to its current Poet Laureate designation in 1986.
Dove was born August 28, 1952 and was raised in Ohio. Her father, Ray Dove, was one of the first Black chemists to work in the tire industry. With the support of her parents, Dove excelled in high school and was named a Presidential Scholar attending Miami University in Ohio as a National Merit Scholar.
After leaving the school in 1973, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study at West Germany’s University of Tübingen. She earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she met her husband, German writer Fred Viebahn.
The first of Dove’s collections was published in 1980, titled The Yellow House On The Corner. In 1987, Dove won a Pulitzer for Poetry, most specifically for her 1986 verse-novel work, Thomas and Beulah.
African-American poet Robert Hayden was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1976-1978. Gwendolyn Brooks had the distinction in 1985-1986 but when the honor’s title was changed to Poet Laureate in 1986, it meant that Dove was officially the first African-American Poet Laureate, serving from 1993 to 1995.
Dove is currently the Commonwealth Professor at the University of Virginia’s Department of English in Charlottesville.
(Photo: University of Virginia)