Rita Dove

Rita Dove

Commonwealth Professor, Department of English

“Just walking through the halls, there’s a hum of intellectual activity. I love that.”

It’s rare for a living poet to become an American household name. Rita Dove is one of those exceptions. When the future U.S. Poet Laureate joined the University of Virginia in 1989, her resume was already laden—she’d won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for her bookThomas and Beulah and collected fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

What attracted Professor Dove to the University of Virginia, she said, was its “intellectual fervor and excitement.” “Everyone that I met in the English Department and the other departments were such exceptional people—fun, intelligent, curious people,” she recalled. “I thought: I want to sit down and talk to these people!”

Since joining the faculty, Professor Dove has won numerous literary awards and recognitions and holds 22 honorary degrees. Her latest collection of poetry, Sonata Mulattica (2009), highlights the life of bi-racial eighteenth-century violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, who was a one-time inspiration to Beethoven; the poems in American Smooth (2004) were inspired by ballroom dancing. Most recently she has served as sole editor for The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, due to be released in October 2011.

Professor Dove says U.Va. has been central to her creative achievement. “It’s been phenomenal because the University has a way of supporting your research, your artistic endeavors, without being intrusive,” she explained. “You’re on a bed of support. And that’s what every intellectual needs in order to be daring.”