Will Racial Quirks Ever Become Common Knowledge?
Dove has published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theaters. She is the editor of Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice," for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton & Company in the spring of 2009.
Question: Are we striving toward post racial literature and art?
Rita Dove: It would be wonderful if we were striving toward a post racial literature and certainly the election of Obama is a big step on the way. I think that we shouldn’t get complacent and think oh gosh, now we’re post racial. We are not. We haven’t had the conversations we need to have about race and privilege and all of that stuff. We’re starting, so on our way, but one of the things that I’ve always dreamed of is to have a post racial literature. You waste so much energy and good talent either trying to insist upon your presence, which is certainly what happened in the black arts movement in the 60’s for instance and you also waste a lot of energy then. You waste a lot of energy insisting upon your presence, but then you also can waste a lot of energy explaining things, explaining things which are specific to a certain racial culture, which if you think about it in terms of the mainstream we don’t mind looking things up if we don’t understand them, but we kind of expect to be clued in on various things that happen in the culture.
One of the things that I have always found frustrating are the little reference points that I might have to explain in a poem that I wouldn’t have to explain if it were a mainstream detail. For instance, I know exactly how a white woman would do her hair every morning. I know the washing and the blow drying and all of that kind of stuff, but so that if I see that in a poem, if it were to occur in a poem then I would have no problem with it whereas for me to even to get up and to explain getting up and rushing in how to do my hair it would require all sorts of glosses. You know I’d have to say well yes, there is the hair pomade and there is the this and so my hope is that in a post racial culture all these kind of details we will just assume that we can figure them out or we will assume that it’s something as we read them that we’ll have to look up instead of demanding that our writers give us a gloss right in the middle of the poem. I think we’re on our way.
Recorded on November 19, 2009
Rita Dove looks forward to the day she won’t have to deconstruct how a black woman does her hair in the morning.
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