Saturday, September 9, 2023

The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, announced that it will award Rita Dove (MFA 1977) with the 2023 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). 

An image of Dove Rita on a graphic overlay
Dove Rita (Credit: Fred Viebahn)

Dove’s sweeping body of work features eleven books of poetry, including Museum, Grace NotesSelected Poems, Mother LoveOn the Bus with Rosa Parks, American SmoothSonata Mulattica, Playlist for the Apocalypse, and her debut collection, The Yellow House on the Corner; a novel, Through the Ivory Gate; a collection of her Poet Laureate lectures titled The Poet’s World; a short story collection, Fifth Sunday; and the play The Darker Face of the Earth. She is the Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Thomas and Beulah, her third collection of poetry based loosely on the lives of her maternal grandparents. From 1993 to 1995, Dove served as the first Black Poet Laureate of the United States. Dove, whose career-spanning Collected Poems 1974–2004 was an NAACP Image Award winner and a Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry, will be presented with the DCAL Medal at the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner on November 15, 2023. 

“Rita Dove’s oeuvre—from poetry, plays, and songs to essays and fiction—is a testament to her dazzling skill across genre and form,” said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “Dove’s work transforms the everyday into the remarkable, brilliantly blending music, politics, and, let’s not forget, pleasure. With her writing, Dove proves that (as she notes) ‘nothing is too small or ordinary’ to be ‘worthy of poetry’ and affirms that history transcends mere instruction. Rita Dove is central to the legacy of American literature, and the Foundation is so proud to honor her extensive literary accomplishments.”

Dove is the only poet to date to have received both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts. Her numerous honors include the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, a 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2014 Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize, a 2017 NAACP Image Award, the 2019 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the 2021 Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the 2022 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress, a 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, and 29 honorary doctorates from higher education institutions. Dove has served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, as president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She has written numerous plays and songs. Dove is currently the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, where she has taught since 1993.

“Throughout her career, Rita Dove’s poetry has served as a guiding light for readers and writers alike, and has made an indelible impact on our literary and cultural heritage,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “It is with great pride that we celebrate Rita Dove’s powerful and expansive body of work by presenting her with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.”

More information is available from the National Book Foundation and the Associated Press

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