Rita Dove

Rita Dove

Past Event: Thursday, May 13, 2010

At Benaroya Hall — Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall

Poetry Icon


Rita Dove began writing seriously in college, and published her first book, The Yellow House on the Corner, in 1980, launching an acclaimed career that has spanned decades and artistic mediums. More than a dozen books of poetry, a critically lauded verse play, a novel, a collection of short stories, several musical collaborations, and thousands of readings and performances later, Dove has undeniably carved out her place in the contemporary American canon of literature.

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952. She grew up in a middle-class household where reading, writing, and music were ever present and always encouraged. When as a young girl, “I first read the poems of Nikki Giovanni,” she says, “something inside me woke up.” She attended Miami University in Ohio on a National Merit Scholarship before studying in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, and in 1977 she earned her M.F.A. in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Her work straddles the ever-shifting lines of personal and collective histories, of private and public stories. This is a poet who earned a Pulitzer in 1986 for Thomas and Beulah, a collection of poetry that interweaves the lives of her grandparents with the greater history of African Americans in the United States. This is a poet whose latest work, Sonata Mulattica, gives voice to George Augustus Polgreen Bridgewater, previously just a footnote in Beethoven’s biography, a black violinist who had a sonata dedicated to him and then renamed. In this groundbreaking book, Dove creates his story and thus captures a lost history of African Americans in classical music.

A classically trained cellist herself, Dove explains “there’s always been a special place in my work for people who drop out of history.” An interest in Bridgewater grew into a book about his world, an arching narrative of poems with a complete cast of characters. “I lived with my scribbled pages and file folders, with classical music blasting and period illustrations plastered all over the walls of my study. And I was in love with poetry again…as I was in my budding years as a writer,” Dove says.

Critics hail Dove for her musicality, for her passionate storytelling, for her technical deftness and unquestioned skill with language and form. “In her locating of the self, the family, and the ethnic and social group within a historical framework,” a biographer writes, “…She has brought African American history into the mainstream of American poetry.”

Other books include On the Bus with Rosa ParksMother Love, and American Smooth. Her verse play, The Darker Face of the Earth, premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1986. She was named Poet Laureate in 1993, the youngest person to hold the position and the second African American. She spent her two terms as Poet Laureate, encouraging the American public to engage with poetry, giving readings across the country, and appearing on Sesame Street beside Big Bird. In 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award.

She is also an accomplished singer, ballroom dancer, and holds over 20 honorary doctorates from American universities. She is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, sits on several advisory boards, and is the Commonwealth Professor of Poetry at the University of Virginia. She lives in Charlottesville with her husband and daughter.


Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others?    –Ludwig v. Beethoven, Heiligenstadt Testament

Silver ribbons stripped loose from their implacable
eyelets, fingers stuttering through muffled lace,
skittering from the keyboard in disgrace.
Whimpered accompaniment to a tongued nipple.
Cascade-glimmer of a chromatic scale.
Tiny bone clack against porcelain, roast squab
or dove dripping from china plates; a sweating pail
of ice, kicked over by a horse. Ach, to be robbed
in one’s sleep, robbed between a sip and a laugh!
(Because we’re wading through wreckage, we’re
not even listening to all the crash and clatter
chords wrenched from their moorings, smashed
etudes, arpeggios glistening as they heave and sink.)
Ciphers, the lot of them. Their money, their perfumed stink.

Selected Work
Sonata Mulattica (2009)
On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999)
Mother Love (1995)
Selected Poems (1993)
Thomas and Beulah (1986), Pulitzer Prize

Videos of Dove dancing with her husband
New York Times’ review of Dove’s latest collection, Sonata Mullatica

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall. The Recital Hall is located on the upper level of Benaroya Hall, up the stairs to the left side of the Box Office. Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

By Car

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Public Transit (Bus & Light Rail)

Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth Avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second Avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

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Assisted Listening Devices, including Hearing Loop Assisted Listening Systems, are available at all of our venues, with the exception of Broadway Performance Hall. If you would like more information, please contact us at boxoffice@lectures.org or 206.621.2230×10.

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For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at boxoffice@lectures.org or 206.621.2230×10.