Rita Dove’s career has seemed more public than those of most others in this generation, as she served as U.S. poet laureate for two terms (1993–95), authored the weekly “Poet’s Choice” column for the Washington Post from 2000 to 2002, and has played a national and international role as an ambassador of poetry. She has published ten books of poetry, a play, a song cycle, a collection of essays, a collection of short stories, and a novel. Much of her work moves beyond views of black poetry commonly promulgated during and after the Black Arts Movement. She is currently a professor of English at the University of Virginia.
Dove was born August 28, 1952, in Akron, Ohio, to a middle class family. Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator at Goodyear until jobs in the tire industry opened up to blacks. Her mother was a homemaker; Dove was the eldest of four children and an excellent student. Her childhood was one enriched by books, music (she studied cello from grade school through college), and language (she learned German when her father, influenced by the experience of World War II, suggested she should know the language of the enemy). Dove was a Presidential Scholar in 1970, visiting the White House. She earned a BA from Miami University of Ohio in 1973, graduating summa cum laude, and an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1977. Before graduate school, she spent a year at Universität Tübingen in West Germany, where she solidified her fluency in German. At Iowa, Dove’s second language caused her to be assigned to assist a visiting novelist from Germany, Fred Viebahn, whom she married in 1979. They have one daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn. While the couple tried to live in Germany in 1979–80, Dove found the language environment was affecting her poetry, so in 1981 they moved to Tempe, Arizona, where she taught creative writing at Arizona State University until 1989. She won an NEH fellowship to serve as a writer in residence at the Tuskegee Institute in 1982. Dove left Arizona in 1989 to become a professor of English at the University of Virginia. The Dove-Viebahn family spends