You can find the full Associated Press announcement here.
The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, announced that it will award Rita Dove with the 2023 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). Dove’s sweeping body of work features eleven books of poetry, including Museum, Grace Notes, Selected Poems, Mother Love, On the Bus with Rosa Parks, American Smooth, Sonata 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 by author, National Book Award Finalist, and Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown at the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner on November 15, 2023.
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.
“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.”
Dove was born in Akron, Ohio; she is a graduate of Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, studied German poetry at Universität Tübingen as a Fulbright fellow, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. From 1999–2000, Dove served as a Special Bicentennial Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress and was the Poet Laureate of the state of Virginia from 2004–2006. She was the editor of both The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. 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’s musical training includes cello, viola da gamba, and classical voice, and she is also a ballroom dancer. Dove is currently the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, where she has taught since 1993.
“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 36th recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement. Previous recipients include Walter Mosley, Edmund White, Isabel Allende, Robert A. Caro, John Ashbery, Ursula K. Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich, Karen Tei Yamashita, and most recently, Art Spiegelman. Nominations for the DCAL medal are made by former National Book Award Winners, Finalists, judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country. The final selection is made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors. Recipients of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters receive $10,000 and a solid brass medal, presented at the National Book Awards.
The 74th National Book Awards will feature special guest Oprah Winfrey on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The in-person Ceremony & Benefit Dinner, which will be broadcast live for readers everywhere, will include the presentation of the Foundation’s two lifetime achievement awards and the 2023 National Book Award Winners in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature. For more information about the 74th National Book Awards Ceremony & Benefit Dinner and to register for the broadcast, please visit nationalbook.org/awards.
Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio on August 28, 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar as one of the hundred top American high school graduates that year, she received her BA summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio in 1973 and her MFA from the University of Iowa in 1977. From 1974–1975 she held a Fulbright scholarship at Universität Tübingen in Germany.
Dove has published eleven poetry collections: The Yellow House on the Corner; Museum; Thomas and Beulah, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize; Grace Notes; Selected Poems; Mother Love; On the Bus with Rosa Parks, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; American Smooth; Sonata Mulattica, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Collected Poems 1974–2004, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work and the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry, and Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry; and Playlist for the Apocalypse, winner of the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry.
She has also published a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday; the novel Through the Ivory Gate; essays under the title The Poet’s World; and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the Royal National Theatre in London, and in many other venues. Among her numerous collaborations with composers is Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams; it premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For “America’s Millennium,” the White House’s 1999/2000 New Year’s celebration, Ms. Dove contributed—in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams’s music—a poem to Steven Spielberg’s documentary The Unfinished Journey. Her song cycle A Standing Witness, with music by Richard Danielpour and sung by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, premiered in 2021, and another song cycle composed by Danielpour, The Unfinished Journey, followed in September 2023.
Ms. Dove was the editor of The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. She also wrote a weekly column, “Poet’s Choice,” for The Washington Post from 2000–2003 and was the New York Times Magazine’s poetry editor from 2018–2019.
From 1993–1995, Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004–2006; she also was, together with Louise Glück and W.S. Merwin, special consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress’s bicentennial year from 1999 to 2000. She has received numerous literary and academic recognitions, foremost among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, as only the second Black poet to have received it, after Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950. Among her other honors are a Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, a Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, and a Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.
In 2006, Ms. Dove received the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols, and Queen Noor of Jordan). In 2007 she held the Chubb Fellowship at Yale University; followed by the Library of Virginia’s 2008 Literary Lifetime Achievement Award; the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Award and the Premio Capri in 2009; the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in 2010; the Furious Flower Lifetime Achievement Award and the Carole Weinstein Prize in 2014; the 2015 Poetry and People International Prize in Guangdong, China; the 2016 Stone Award from Oregon State University; and the 2017 Harold Washington Literary Award. Also in 2017 came the Callaloo Lifetime Achievement Award and the inaugural U.S. Presidential Scholars Foundation Award, which she accepted together with fellow 1970 Presidential and National Merit Scholar Merrick Garland. The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement followed in 2018 and, in 2019, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the North Star Award from the Hurston/Wright Foundation, the W. E. B. Du Bois Medal from Harvard University, and the Langston Hughes Medal from The City College of New York.
In 2021, the members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters chose Ms. Dove as the recipient of the Gold Medal for Poetry (as the third woman and first Black poet to receive the Academy’s highest honor in its 110-year history). In 2022, she received a Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and the Bobbitt Prize for lifetime achievement from the Library of Congress.
President Bill Clinton presented Ms. Dove the 1996 National Humanities Medal / Charles Frankel Prize, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of Arts, making her the only poet who has received both national medals.
To date, 29 honorary doctorates have been conferred upon Ms. Dove, most recently by Yale University, Emory University, Smith College, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Iowa.
Ms. Dove served on the board of the Associated Writing Programs (AWP; now Association of Writers and Writing Programs) from 1985–1988, leading the organization as its president from 1986–1987. From 1994–2000, she was a senator (member of the governing board) of the national academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and from 2005–2011, she served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Since 1991 she has been on the jury of the annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. A member of PEN America, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers, Rita Dove held the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia (UVA) from 1993 to 2020; since 2020 she is Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at UVA. A classically trained cellist and gambist, she lives in Charlottesville with her husband, the writer Fred Viebahn. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn.
Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Award and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s first book, Please, won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal, Coldfront, and the Academy of American Poets. He is also the author of the collection The Tradition, which was a Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry and the winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His poems have appeared in Buzzfeed, The Nation, the New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, TIME Magazine, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry anthologies.
Image: Rita Dove. (Photo credit: Fred Viebahn)