Librarian of Congress James H. Billington on May 19 announced the appointment of Rita Dove as the Library's seventh Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. She will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library's annual literary series on Oct. 7 with a reading of her work.
Ms. Dove succeeds Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Mark Strand, Joseph Brodsky and, most recently, Mona Van Duyn.
Of his appointment, Dr. Billington said, "I take much pleasure in announcing the selection of a younger poet of distinction and versatility. Having had a number of Poet Laureates who have accumulated multiple distinctions from lengthy and distinguished careers, we will be pleased to have an outstanding representative of a new and richly variegated generation of American poets. Rita Dove is an accomplished and already widely recognized poet in mid-career whose work gives special promise to explore and enrich contemporary American poetry."
Ms. Dove told The Washington Post that "this will ruin my life, but it's an incredible honor and I'd be crazy not to accept it."
The second woman in the post since the title "Poet Laureate" was added in 1985 to the title "Consultant in Poetry," Ms. Dove succeeds Ms. Van Duyn and six other women, all major poets, who served in the earlier role as poetry consultant: Leonie Adams, Louise Bogan, Elizabeth Bishop, Josephine Jacobsen, Maxine Kumin and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Ms. Dove will participate actively in the Library's poetry and literature programs, as well as advise the Library on literary matters, including its literature collections and its audio and video tape archive. She will also introduce a number of poets in the Library's annual series of free public readings and lectures.
Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952, Ms. Dove was a 1970 Presidential Scholar as one of the 100 best high school graduates in the U.S. that year. She graduated summa cum laude from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), attended Universitat Tubingen (Germany) as a Fulbright fellow and received her master of fine arts at the University of Iowa. Her books include the poetry collection The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), and Thomas and Beulah (1986), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the author of Grace Notes (1989), a volume of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985) and a novel, Through the Ivory Gate (1992).
Ms. Dove's poetry has earned her fellowship support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center and the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Virginia. She received a Portia Pittman Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities as writer-in-residence at Tuskegee Institute, the Lavan Younger Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets (chosen by Robert Penn Warren during his tenure as the first Poet Laureate), the General Electric Foundation Award, the Ohio Governor's Award in the arts, honorary doctorates from Miami University and Knox College and a Literary Lion citation from New York Public Library.
Ms. Dove is past president of the Associated Writing Programs (the association of creative writers in academia), was a member of the National Endowment for the Arts advisory board for literature in 1984-86 (and chaired its poetry grants panel in 1985) and served as a judge for the Walt Whitman Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Ruth Lilly Prize. She is associate editor of the magazine Callaloo and teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she has just been appointed Commonwealth Professor of English. In June, Ms. Dove will be the Phi Beta Kappa poet at Harvard University's graduation ceremonies. She last appeared at the Library during its 1986 literary series, when she read from her work with the poet Edward Hirsch.
Arnold Rampersad, in Callaloo, praised Rita Dove's "almost uncanny sense of peace and grace that infuses this wide-ranging poetry." Helen Vendler called her, in The New York Review of Books, "a poet of dramatic force" and wrote: "Pure shapes, her poems exhibit the thrift that Yeats called the sign of a perfected manner."
Ms. Dove lives in Charlottesville with her husband, German writer Fred Viebahn, and their daughter, Aviva. She plans on spending part of each week from October to May at the Library of Congress.
Background of the Laureateship
The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. The stipend is $35,000.
Each laureate brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library's now-defunct Quarterly Journal during his tenure and edited the compilation Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944. Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Poetry Room.
Maxine Kumin initiated a popular women's series of poetry workshops at the Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature on Tape.
Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places -- supermarkets, hotels, airports, hospitals -- where people congregate and "can kill time as time kills them." This project is being pursued in the summer of 1993 with an initial donation from the Book-of-the-Month Club and anonymous donors of 5,000 copies of Joel Conarroe's edition of Six American Poets.
Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below:
- Joseph Auslander, 1937-41
- Allen Tate, 1943-44
- Robert Penn Warren, 1944-45
- Louise Bogan, 1945-46
- Karl Shapiro, 1946-47
- Robert Lowell, 1947-48
- Leonie Adams, 1948-49
- Elizabeth Bishop, 1949-50
- Conrad Aiken, 1950-52 (first to serve two terms)
- William Carlos Williams (appointed in 1952 but did not serve)
- Randall Jarrell, 1956-58
- Robert Frost, 1958-59
- Richard Eberhart, 1959-61
- Louis Untermeyer, 1961-63
- Howard Nemerov, 1963-64
- Reed Whittemore, 1964-65
- Stephen Spender, 1965-66
- James Dickey, 1966-68
- William Jay Smith, 1968-70
- William Stafford, 1970-71
- Josephine Jacobsen, 1971-73
- Daniel Hoffman, 1973-74
- Stanley Kunitz, 1974-76
- Robert Hayden, 1976-78
- William Meredith, 1978-80
- Maxine Kumin, 1981-82
- Anthony Hecht, 1982-84
- Robert Fitzgerald, 1984-85 (appointed and served in health- limited capacity, but did not come to LC)
- Reed Whittemore, 1984-85
- Gwendolyn Brooks, 1985-86
- Robert Penn Warren, 1986-87 (first to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry)
- Richard Wilbur, 1987-88
- Howard Nemerov, 1988-90
- Mark Strand, 1990-91
- Joseph Brodsky, 1991-92
- Mona Van Duyn, 1992-93
Everybody who's anybody longs to be a tree-- or ride one, hair blown by froth. That's why horses were invented, and saddles tooled with singular stars.
This is why we braid their harsh manes as if they were children, why children might fear a carousel at first for the way it insists that life is round. No,
we reply, there is music and then it stops; the beautiful is always rising and falling. We call and the children sing back one more time. In the tree the luminous sap ascends.
--"Horse and Tree" from Grace Notes, Norton, 1989