Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

1997

Rita Dove

Rita Dove receives the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for her success in breathing new life into the essence of poetry.

In 1993, Ms. Dove was named America's Poet Laureate, the first African-American and, at 40 years of age, the youngest person ever to hold that distinguished post. A year later, Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, appointed her for a second term, crediting her with having "more ideas for elevating poetry in the nation's consciousness than there is time to carry out in one term." A writer of both poetry and fiction and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Ms. Dove is an artist of broad horizons. In her work, the African-American experience is integrated into a larger picture of Western cultures in both the United States and Europe. In a society so enamored of the flashy, the polarized, and the exaggerated, her depth and her finely detailed compositional skills are extremely valuable.

Rita Dove's intellectual abilities were evident at an early age. As a child growing up in Akron, Ohio, she wrote stories and plays for her classmates to perform. In 1970 she ranked among the top 100 high school seniors in the country and visited the White House as a Presidential Scholar. A graduate of Miami University in Ohio and the University of Iowa, she later studied at Tubingen University in West Germany on a Fulbright scholarship. In recognition of her work, she was also awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and, in 1987, the Pulitzer Prize for her third book of poetry, Thomas and Beulah, a collection based on her grandparents' lives.

On behalf of her art, Ms. Dove is unfailingly generous with her ideas and her time. She credits her own love of poetry and literature to having parents who encouraged her to "read whatever I wanted." Mindful of this lesson from her youth, she has been especially diligent in attempting to introduce young people to poetry. And above all, she has worked to open minds, young and old alike, to the power of her art form and the many stories it tells.

Today, Rita Dove continues to write and teach at the University of Virginia, where she is Commonwealth Professor of English. Her latest book of poetry is entitled Mother Love, and her verse drama, The Darker Face of the Earth, received its world premiere this past summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. While she often writes about herself, her family, and black history in America, her work reflects a broad social awareness. Her poems are about people, she says, and sometimes these people are black. "I am concerned with race," she says, "but certainly not every poem of mine mentions the fact of being black. They are poems about humanity and sometimes humanity happens to be black. I cannot run from, I won't run from any kind of truth."

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

February 2012 - Rita Dove received the 2011 National Medal of Arts. She was cited for creating works that are equal parts beauty, lyricism, critique, and politics and for working to create popular interest in the literary arts, serving as the United States’ youngest Poet Laureate and advocating on behalf of the diversity and vitality of American poetry and literature. - UVA Today

March 2011 - Rita Dove is inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, one of ten new members elected to the 250-person organization. - American Academy of Arts and Letters

November 2010 - Rita Dove was a recipient of a 9th annual Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. The Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards are presented annually to authors of African descent for the best works in fiction, nonfiction and poetry in the previous year. - Publishers Weekly

September 2010 - Rita Dove receives the Ambassador Award from the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers as part of the 2010 Celebration of Books. - Tulsa World

April 2009 - Rita Dove released a new book of poetry, "Sonata Mulattica," a narrative subtitled “A Life in Five Movements and a Short Play,” and intertwines fact and fiction to flesh out George Bridgetower, the son of a Polish-German mother and an Afro-Caribbean father who was known as a violin virtuoso in the time of Beethoven and Hadyn. - The New York Times

April 2006
- Dove is among the 175 new fellows to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. - American Academy of Arts and Sciences

March 2006 - Dove wins the 2006 Common Wealth Award for Literature from the PNC Bank of Delaware. This annual award recognizes "some of the world's greatest individuals, who have enriched and improved the world through their exceptional lifetime achievements." - University of Virginia News

February 2006 - Dove is named Grand Master at Birmingham-Southern College's Writing Today Conference. Dove will preside over this 26th annual conference which brings in worldwide literary professionals for lectures, seminars and information sessions. - Birmingham-Southern College

December 2004 - Dove's American Smooth makes the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2004 list.

December 2004 - Dove's book American Smooth is selected as one of New York Public Library's Books to Remember from 2004. The list includes only 25 titles in all, and describes Dove's work as an "elegant collection" of poetry. - New York Public Library

May 2001 - Dove receives the Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award at the Duke Ellington Awards Gala at the Kennedy Center. The award recognizes Dove's extraordinary career and accomplishments in literature. - The Washington Post

January 2000 - January 2002 - As U.S. Poet Laureate, Dove takes over writing the weekly column for The Washington Post entitled "Poet's Choice".

June 1999 - Dove's latest book, On the Bus with Rosa Parks, is released. While the collection touches on myriad topics, Dove's own African-American experience in America provides strong undertones in many of the poems. - New York Amsterdam News

October 1998 - Dove receives the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine. One of the oldest and most prestigious of poetry's prizes, this honor is accompanied by a $500 grant.

November 1997 - Dove receives the Sara Lee Frontrunner Award which "honors women who dare to be first in the arts, business, government, and humanities." Along with the distinction, the Sara Lee Foundation will donate $50,000 to a women's charity of Dove's choice. - Jet

November 1997 - Dove's play, The Darker Face of the Earth, opens at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. It is Dove's first taste of playwriting and was made possible by a grant from the Kennedy Center Funds for New American Plays. - The Washington Times

December 1996 - Dove wins the National Humanities Medal and Charles Frankel Prize for being "an activist in poetry programs for the public." - National Endowment for the Humanities

Rita Dove