Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States, will discuss her latest collection of poetry, Sonata Mulattica, which has been selected as this year’s Book One, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 29 in the McConnell Theatre. Book One, which incoming freshmen read as the first text of their college careers, makes connections between the Writing and Thinking Workshop and the General Education Seminars, brings prominent authors to campus to broaden the scope of student experience, and enhances the diversity and interdisciplinary focus of the General Education program.
Sonata Mulattica is arranged into five “movements” of poems composed around the life of George Polgreen Bridgetower. Bridgetower, 1780-1860, a mixed-race violin virtuoso, astonished audiences in concert halls across Europe with his genius. Beethoven dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major to Bridgetower as the Sonata Mulattica. However, the two men had a falling out over Bridgetower’s advances on a female companion of Beethoven’s, after which the sonata was summarily re-dedicated the Kreutzer Sonata and Bridgetower became merely a footnote in the historical record.
“Sonata Mulattica is a tremendously compelling text from one of America’s most prominent poets,” says John Weinstein who, as Emily Fisher Faculty Fellow, participated in the selection of the book. “It fosters questions about diversity in a historical space and time, Europe in the early 19th century, which we seldom consider, and thereby expands our sense of what diversity means. It’s an amazing example of a creative writer engaging in historical research: exactly the sort of cross-cultural and interdisciplinary work the Book One program seeks to highlight.”
Though the program has selected texts from a variety of genres—novels, creative nonfiction, and memoir—this is the first time a book of poems has been chosen. Celebrated for her taut, lyric voice and an ability to craft an evocative sense of grand narratives through crisp explorations of the local and the particular, Washington Post Book World says that “Dove, with her precise, singing lines, eliminates the impure, the wrong notes, the clutter and the waste to reach straight to the heart of experiences so that emotion rings true.”
Ms. Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, served as Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995. She has published nine collections of poetry, including Thomas and Beulah, which was awarded the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Other honors include the 1996 National Humanities Medal, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award and, in 2009, a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal.
Established in 2005, the Book One Program chooses texts based on their excellence and suitability for promoting interdisciplinary conversations about the intersection of cultures. Previous selections include Emmanuel Dongala’s Little Boys Come from the Stars, Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.