Former United States Poet Laureate Rita Dove has probably written more award-winning poetry and held more distinguished positions than most Yalies are aware. And although most Yale undergraduates may have a general idea of who she is, there are also many who have never even heard her name.
On Wednesday, the Timothy Dwight Chubb Fellowship program hopes to change that.
Timothy Dwight Master Robert Thompson, the current head of the Chubb Fellowship, immediately became Dove’s fan upon first reading her verse.
“Dove was inevitably chosen because she is one of the most distinguished poets now writing,” Thompson said. “The directness of her imagery fairly leapt off the page. And when she writes of the pleasures of black dance, tango to bolero to rhumba, forget it!”
In 1993, Dove become the youngest person and the first African-American to be appointed poet laureate. She was later named Special Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. Her collection of poems “Thomas and Beulah” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize.
Dove has even been featured on a postage stamp in Uganda.
The Chubb Fellowship, which is sponsoring Dove’s appearance at Yale, was created in 1936 and features three to five guest fellows each year. Each appearance includes an intimate question-and-answer luncheon with students, followed by a public lecture or reading.
Past Chubb speakers have included dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, author Toni Morrison, former President Ronald Reagan and, most recently, feminist Gloria Steinem, who spoke Sept. 26.
Thompson expressed excitement that the fellowship provides the resources to bring such notable figures to Yale, but students interviewed were not familiar with Dove’s work.
“She’s the poet laureate, right? Why wouldn’t I want to see her? Though I’m not that familiar with most of what she’s written,” Alan Hutchinson ’11 said.
Christina Wakefield ’11, though more aware than Hutchinson of Dove’s accomplishments, attributed her knowledge of the poet only to a high-school interest in African-American poetry.
Thompson hopes Dove’s visit will expose more students to her work.
“Dove is a world-class artist with insights galore about race, love, gender and dreams — all richly present in her verse,” Thompson, who is also a history of art professor, said.
But prior knowledge of Dove’s work will not be required at Wednesday’s reading.
“Students will have a rare opportunity to witness precisely how you mix politics with art, righteous anger with aspiration,” Thompson said. “When she reads Wednesday afternoon she will regale all Yale, especially students, with a rare and righteous voice.”
The Chubb Fellowship lunches, which are usually held at the Union League Cafe, provide students with a closer introduction to the speakers.
“I try to go to all of them, even when I haven’t heard of [the speaker],” Leland Milstein ’08 said. “My favorite part is finding out how they knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives.”
Milstein is a staff photographer for the News.
Dove’s Wednesday poetry reading will be held at 4:30 in Room 127 of the Sterling Law Buildings. The event is open to the public and admission is free.