Obama honors Rita Dove
University English Prof. receives 2011 National Medal of Arts for poetry
University English Prof. Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English, received the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House yesterday, along with 19 other honorees.
The medal is the highest award given by the U.S. government to artists and arts patrons in recognition of their contributions to the excellence, support and availability of the arts in the United States.
"Michelle and I love this event," Obama said at the ceremony. "[It] is something we look forward to every year because it is a chance America gets to tribute men and women that have excelled in the arts and the humanities. We honor your talents, your careers and your remarkable contributions to this country that we love."
Dove served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993-1995 and in 1987 received a Pulitzer Prize for her literary work.
Obama spoke at the awards ceremony yesterday afternoon commending the artists for their work.
"[In] her contributions as an American poet and author, Ms. Dove creates works that are equal parts beauty, lyricism, critique and politics," according to a University press release. "Ms. Dove has worked to create popular interest in the literary arts, serving as the United States' youngest Poet Laureate and advocating on behalf of the diversity and vitality of American poetry and literature."
English Prof. Cynthia Wall, the chair of the department, said despite Dove's "busy glamorous life and many appearances all over the world, she never lets that get in the way of teaching and students."
Dove received the National Medal of Humanities in 1996 from then President Bill Clinton and is now the youngest poet to receive the arts medal. Wall said Dove is the only American to receive all three of the nation's highest arts and humanities distinctions.
"We are proud to have nationally visible creative writers and scholars in the English department, but not all of them end up getting handed awards from the President of the United States," English Prof. Christopher Tilghman said. "We're really proud of her, as is the entire university."
Dove was one of eight other artists who received this award, including actor Al Pacino, philanthropist Emily Rauth Pulitzer and country musician Mel Tillis.
"Rita, for all of her national visibility, is deeply committed to the students, undergraduate and graduate poetry students, and she's been a wonderful part of our program and a real advocate for it," Tilghman said.
Dove was not available for comment yesterday because of her presence at the White House ceremony.
Fourth-year College student Gillian Douple said Dove's class taught her a lot about herself, her life perspective and the ways she encounters poetry.
"One of the greatest things about her class was the poetry-writing community she fostered," Douple said. "She invited our class over to her house, where we checked out her awesome ballroom,"
Dove continues to engage students on a personal as well as academic level.
"She has been one of my favorite professors at the University for sure, and being able to see the other side of her poetry was a great experience," Douple said.
Obama also presented National Humanities Awards to nine individuals and organizations at the ceremony.