US National Book Foundation Honors Poet Rita Dove

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The former US poet laureate, Rita Dove is the National Book Foundation’s 2023 Distinguished Contribution medal winner.

Rita Dove. Image: Fred Viebahn, National Book Foundation

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also: US National Book Foundation: Paul Yamazaki Wins the Literarian Award

Steinberger: ‘An Indelible Impact’
Following Wednesday’s news that the United States’ National Book Foundation has awarded its 2023 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to San Francisco bookseller Paul Yamazaki, the foundation today–which produces the National Book Awards —today (September 8) has named Rita Dove its recipient this year of the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

National Book Award finalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown is to present the award to Dove at the foundation’s 74th National Book Awards fundraising ceremony in New York City on November 15. The evening is to be hosted by Drew Barrymore with Oprah Winfrey as a special guest at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

From 1993 to 1995, Dove was the States’ poet laureate, the first Black writer to hold that honor. A native of Akron and graduate of Ohio’s Miami University, Dove—our international readership will be interested to know—studied German poetry at Universität Tübingen as a Fulbright fellow, prior to taking an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She was named Virginia’s poet laureate for the years 2004 to 2006, and in 1999 and 2000 was a special Bicentennial consultant in poetry to the National of Congress.

Already heavily decorated before she arrives at the National Book Awards in November, Dove is the only poet to date to have received both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts.

Her accolades 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 Letter
  • The 2022 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress
  • A 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation
  • A reported 29 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities
Dickey: ‘Dazzling Skill Across Genre and Form’

Dove’s Thomas and Beulah (University of Chicago Press), released in 1986 by Carnegie Mellon Press, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize, and is a collection of poetry based on the lives of her mother’s parents.

Penguin Random House’s publication of her novel, Through the Ivory Gate, was released in 1993, and she edited the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry for its release in 2013.  Dove’s extensive list of published work includes 11 books of poetry. Among them are:

David Steinberger

National Book Foundation chair David Steinberger says, “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.

“It’s 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.”

Ruth Dickey

And the program’s executive director Ruth Dickey says, “Rita Dove’s oeuvre—from poetry, plays, and songs to essays and fiction—is a testament to her dazzling skill across genre and form.

“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.”

Recipients of the Distinguished Contribution medal receive US$10,000 and a brass medal.  Dove is the 36th recipient of this lifetime achievement award, previous winners including 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 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. 

On November 15, a stream will be made available from the National Book Awards, and you can register for it here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards in the United States is here and more on the vast field of international book awards and prizes is here. More from us on the United States’ market is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.