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Rita Dove reflects on the need for a national conversation on race
Former Poet Laureate Rita Dove will read her works tonight at Kent State, WKSU's Jeff St.Clair asks her about America's latest struggle with race relations
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR


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Jeff St. Clair
 
Former Poet Laureate, and Akron native Rita Dove reads her works tonight (4/2/15) on the Kent State campus as part of the Wick Poetry Series.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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Akron native Rita Dove is the youngest person to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the second African-American to win the award.

She was named Poet Laureate of the United States in 1992 and has received the National Humanities Medal, the National Medal of Arts, and more than two dozen honorary doctorates.

She speaks tonight on the Kent State Campus as part of the Wick Poetry Series.

I caught up with her this afternoon for a conversation at the Kent State Library…

Jeff St.Clair talks with poet Rita Dove

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Rita Dove was a majorette at Buchtel High School in Akron in 1970. She says music has always been a part of her life, and she still loves dancing, without the baton.
A 25-year-old Rita Dove poses in front of her parents' home in Akron. Memories of her hometown appear in many of her poems and works of fiction.
Rita Dove and husband Fred Viebahn in 1987, the day Dove was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Dove met Viebahn while studying in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar.
Rita Dove returned to Buchtel High School in 2010 for her 40th class reunion. She says her class was a melting pot of black and white students, who in 1970 confronted issues of race, war, and government head-on.

Rita Dove came to Kent State this week as part of the Annual US Poet Laureate Reading series with the Wick Poetry Center.  She spent part of Thursday afternoon answering questions from a large group of students, faculty, and community members, and then an evening reading.

We spoke in the May 4th reading room in the Kent State library, underneath large photos of the four students killed in 1970.

I asked Dove what she thinks about the current self-examination America is going through surrounding the shooting of a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, an event repeated in many cities across the country.

She says that what happened in Ferguson is not very surprising.  She says growing up as an African-American, even in a city as amenable as Akron, you learn never to be surprised by the cruelty of human beings, and although it sounds terrible, it’s something you learn to survive.”

But, she says, "I thought by now we would have been beyond that.”

I ask if she’s resigned to the fact that racism exists in America.  Dove says she is not resigned and she is angry, but, “the best way I can help is to write,” and her anger, “has to be subsumed into the art of the writing.”

“Oscar Wilde says that revenge is a dish best served cold,” she says, “and for me as a writer I need to have enough control over my own emotions that I can write about it clearly, crisply, and devastatingly.”

Dove says, “For a country that has had this significant experience with race and class and violence it’s remarkable that we don’t talk about it. We just don’t even mention it.”

“You can’t get anything solved if you don’t talk about it,” says Dove.

 
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