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If you like Rita Dove's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Ben Carson,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Louise Glück,
Coretta Scott King,
Audra McDonald,
W.S. Merwin,
Story Musgrave,
Joyce Carol Oates,
Rosa Parks,
Suzan-Lori Parks,
Wole Soyinka,
Esperanza Spalding,
Amy Tan,
John Updike and
Oprah Winfrey

Rita Dove's recommended reading: Arabian Nights

Rita Dove also appears in the videos:
Justice and the Citizen: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Vol. 2,
So, You Want to Be a Writter,
Justice and the Citizen: From the Indian Reservation to the Inner City, The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
The Power of Words,
Media and Social Responsibility

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Rita Dove in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Martin Luther King Day
The Genius of Creativity
The Power of Words
Poets & Poetry

Related Links:
Norton Poets

African American Literature

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Rita Dove
Rita Dove
Profile of Rita Dove Biography of Rita Dove Interview with Rita Dove Rita Dove Photo Gallery

Rita Dove Interview (page: 3 / 3)

Former Poet Laureate of the United States

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  Rita Dove

What do you think are the most important personal characteristics for success in any field?

Rita Dove: I think it is imagination.

I think that without imagination we can go nowhere. And imagination is not something that's just restricted to the arts. Every scientist that I have met who has been a success has had to imagine. You have to imagine it possible before you can see something, sometimes. You can have the evidence right in front of you, but if you can't imagine something that has never existed before, it's impossible. And, with imagination, there are a lot of other characteristics I think you need too. You need determination, and you need to have some sense, some faith in the human ability to persevere and to triumph. Whether you have faith in yourself as that human being is a different point, but at least the faith that human beings can do it. But imagination, in a certain way, contains all of those things, too, because you have to imagine that it is possible for human beings to do something before you can do it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Looking back on your ups and downs, what advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?

Rita Dove Interview Photo
Rita Dove: The first thing I tell them is to read. If they don't read, if they don't love reading, if they don't find themselves compulsively reading -- print as they walk by a shopping mall, anything -- then I don't think they're really a writer. Then it's the ego talking. Because inherent in the idea of being a writer is to have the whole continuum, have the whole circle be completed. That feeling as a writer that you are writing, someone else is going to pick this up and read it and it's not completed until that person reads it. If you haven't taken part in that continuum, how can you even know how it's going to work?

Hemingway once said that more writers fail from lack of character than lack of talent. You know? It is not a question of sitting down under a tree and having inspiration come down. If you wait for inspiration, inspiration's going to go away and look for more fertile ground to work with. There's a lot of work involved in it too. There's a lot of feeling that you're almost there, but you don't even know how to get to that point in the poem, and then you just simply keep working. You keep writing, you keep re-writing. And to know that everyone goes through that -- and that's part of the process and it's actually a fun part of the process -- is very important too.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

I would also tell them -- and this sounds corny -- but they can only write what they feel. That doesn't mean they have to have experience it, but to write something because someone else thinks it's right, to write for PC reasons, to write because you think you ought to be dealing with this subject, is never going to yield anything that is really going to matter to anyone else. It has to matter to you and, come what may, even if it doesn't seem to be at all socially acceptable, if that's how you feel, that's really what you have to write.

You have to be true to yourself.

Rita Dove: Yes, because...

Being true to yourself really means being true to all the complexities of the human spirit. And as much as we'd like to give -- and we want to be perfect, well-rounded individuals -- all of us have our quirks. We all know we've had our foibles. And we've got these embarrassing moments in our lives, and things that we're ultimately ashamed of. What writing -- what I think all the arts do -- is to reveal. Let us see again and experience again, all the ambiguities that make up -- and the contradictions that make up -- a human being: the good and the bad and how they can exist in one person and make a complex individual. And to do that, that means being very honest. Being honest all the time.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

I wonder if you have any reactions to that phrase, "American Dream." What does that mean to you?.

Rita Dove: "The American Dream" is a phrase that we'll have to wrestle with all of our lives, and on and on to our children's lives. It means a lot of things to different people. I think that we're redefining it now.

For a long time, the American dream meant, you know, a chicken in every pot and a Frigidaire, right? You know, "You need a Frigidaire in the kitchen." And now we're beginning to realize that the American dream really is not about uniformity, but it's about -- I don't want to say diversity. What I want to say is, it's more like a mosaic. It's not a melting pot, it's a mosaic, and we all contribute our tiles to making up that big picture. And that's glorious. That's nothing to be afraid of.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

To me, that's what the American dream is, the entire mosaic. When you back up, you see the whole thing, but when you get in there, there's a whole bunch of little dreams in there. That's what I think.

Thank you so much for your time.

Thank you.

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This page last revised on Sep 21, 2010 20:36 EDT
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