An Afternoon with Poet Rita Dove: Sonata Mulattica
Rita Frances Dove (born August 28, 1952) is an American poet and essayist. From 1993 to 1995, she served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She is the first African American to have been appointed since the position was created by an act of Congress in 1986 from the previous "consultant in poetry" position (1937–86). Dove also received an appointment as "special consultant in poetry" for the Library of Congress's bicentennial year from 1999 to 2000. Dove is the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1987, and she served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She is sole editor of The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2011), and teaches at the University of Virginia where she is the Commonwealth Professor of English.
Ms. Dove will discuss her latest book, Sonata Mulattica, a poetic treatise on the life of 19th-century Afro-European violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower. The son of a white woman and an “African Prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860) travels to Vienna to meet “bad-boy” genius Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer’s subsequent sonata is originally dedicated to the young mulatto, but George, exuberant with acclaim, offends Beethoven over a woman. From this crucial encounter evolves a grandiose yet melancholy poetic tale.
Publishers Weekly reviewed Sonata Mulattica as "a heterogeneous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique" and "...those who loved her early work may think this book too long: few, though, will doubt the seriousness of her effort, her interest at once in the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race." The New Yorker said, "[...] stuffed with historical and musical arcana. Yet the book remains highly accessible, reading much like a historical novel. Dove is fascinated by Bridgetower's life as a black musician and occasionally implies parallels with the world of jazz and rap, but the issue of race does not predominate. She is concerned equally with the status of musicians in a world of precarious patronage." The New Yorker also listed the work as part of their 2009 "A Year's Reading" list. The American Library Association listed the work as part of their "Booklist Editor's Choice" for 2009, and described the work as "a mischievous and sensuous cycle of linked poems that explores genius and power, class and race."
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