Rita Frances Dove

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Rita Frances Dove is an African-American poet who was born in Akron, Ohio on August 28, 1952. Growing up, she lived in a household that encouraged reading and writing so she developed her love for learning at a very young age. She obtained good grades all throughout primary and into high school, during which she was invited to the White House as a Presidential Scholar prior to her graduation. Thereafter, she attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she graduated with a degree in English in 1973. She then studied abroad in Germany for two semesters before returning to the states and joining the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1977. Dove met her husband, German novelist Fred Viebahn,…show more content…
She followed with Museum (1983) and Thomas and Beulah (1986), which came to be one of Dove’s most well-known pieces of work. Thomas and Beulah was a collection of interrelated poems based on her grandparents’ lives; it earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, making her the second African American poet to receive the prestigious award, after Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950. In 1989, Dove published another collection of poetry called Grace Notes. In it, is a specific poem called Canary, to which she dedicated to Michael S. Harper, a famous African American poet. In this poem, Dove profiles the great African American jazz singer Billie Holiday. The first stanza speaks specifically of, and directly names Billie Holiday, Billie Holiday’s burned…show more content…
Tolhurst writes that “Dove’s literary accomplishment is measured by … vivid portraits drawn within her poetry” (2). She describes Holiday’s voice as “burned” to imply the many hardships she endured throughout her life. She follows in saying that her voice had as many shadows as lights, giving us the notion that her voice was beautiful and lovely but behind the literal sound of her voice, was the dark and awful events she was singing about. According to Ronald Dofour, “Holiday had a small voice with a range of only about an octave, but she created a sense of intimacy with her audience. She could transform a song, inflecting words and pitches to give them her own meaning or emotional content” (3). The next picture Dove paints for us is the “mournful candelabra against a sleek piano.” Billie Holiday, when performing, often did so on stage in front of a large piano sometimes with a candle holder perched on it. Specifically, in Billie Holiday’s performance of Strange Fruit, she is seen in black and white in front of an old microphone with a large, black piano just behind her. The final line in the first stanza creates an unpleasant idea. Holiday was known for wearing gardenias in her hair; however, they were often positioned on the side of her head, not “under that ruined face” as Dove put it. This line suggests that the gardenia has fallen under her face, now ruined, perhaps by sickness or maybe death.

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