Rita Dove is proof that wisdom, creativity and national leadership can come from Akron. For her poetry, fiction, essays and plays she has received more awards
and recognition than we could list and do justice to her accomplishments.
She has published seven books of poetry, a novel, a collection of short stories, a collection of essays and a play. One of the most prestigious awards she has received was the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for Thomas and Beulah, a collection of poems.
Dove was only the second African-American poet to win this award and the first in thirty- seven years since Gwendolyn Brooks won in 1950. Many of Dove’s poems take place in Akron, which is also the setting for her novel, Through the Ivory Gate (1992, Pantheon).
Dove was born in Akron in 1952, and by 1970 she was invited to the White House to be honored as one of America’s hundred most outstanding high school graduates. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Miami in Ohio in 1973 with a degree in English and then from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1977 with a Master of Fine Arts degree.
Dove’s appointment to Poet Laureate of the United States in 1993 was her chair at the table of poetry’s greatest. By earning this title, she became the youngest person and first African-American to receive this highest official honor in American letters.
Dove’s family has a history of setting standards for African- Americans. In the 1950s, her father, the first African- American research chemist, broke through race barrier of the tire industry.
Because Rita Dove is one of the most intellectual and creative people to emerge from this area and because her description of a Memorial Day afternoon captures the essence of life and leisure in May, we recognize her with this poem from her 1993 Selected Poems (Vintage Books).
The day? Memorial.
After the grill
Dad appears with his masterpiece—
swirled snow, gelled light.
We cheer. The recipe’s
a secret and he fights
a smile, his cap turned up
so the bib resembles a duck.
That morning we galloped
through the grassed-over mounds
and named each stone
for a lost milk tooth. Each dollop
of sherbet, later,
is a miracle,
like salt on a melon that makes it sweeter.
Everyone agrees—it’s wonderful!
It’s just how we imagined lavender
would taste. The diabetic grandmother
stares from the porch,
of pure refusal.
We thought no one was lying
there under our feet,
we thought it
was a joke. I’ve been trying
to remember the taste,
but it doesn’t exist.
Now I see why