Center for Southern Studies to award Thomas Robinson Prize to former Poet Laureate Rita Dove

Headshot of Rita Dove
Rita Dove. Photo credit: Fred Viebahn

MACON — Mercer University’s Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2024 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature to former Poet Laureate of the United States Rita Dove. The prize will be presented Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. in the University’s Presidents Dining Room.

“The litany of awards and accolades Rita Dove has received testify to the singular fact that she is one of the most important writers in American letters,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the Robinson Prize Committee. “As a poet, she is a virtuoso of form, capable of bending verse to her will, capturing melody without notes and rhythm without drumbeats. Her true importance, though, lies in the subjects she explores in her poems. She uses her verse to tell the stories of people overlooked by history, humble people, such as her grandparents who left the South to settle in the Midwest. These stories are vital to the narrative of the United States, and Professor Dove tells them with the majesty they deserve.”

Currently the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, Dove has served as Poet Laureate of the United States, Consultant to the Library of Congress and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Author of a novel, a book of short stories, essays and numerous volumes of poetry, among them the National Book Award finalist and NAACP Image Award winner Collected Poems 1974-2004, she also edited The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry (2011) and wrote weekly poetry columns for The Washington Post from 2000 to 2003 and The New York Times Magazine from 2018 to 2019. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. President Bill Clinton awarded her the 1996 National Humanities Medal, and President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of Arts, making her the only poet who received both medals from the U.S. government. 

Thomas Robinson Prize logo

The Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature recognizes writers who have engaged and extended the long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South. The selection committee for the Robinson Prize includes Mercer professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community. Previous winners of the prize are Ernest Gaines (2012), Lee Smith (2013), Elizabeth Spencer (2014), Yusef Komunyakaa (2015), Wendell Berry (2016), Ellen Gilchrist (2017), Natasha Trethewey (2018), Fred Chappell (2019), Ron Rash (2020), Barbara Kingsolver (2021), Nikky Finney (2022) and Percival Everett (2023).

“The list of writers who have received the Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature is very impressive indeed,” said Dove. “I am honored and deeply moved to be included in such illustrious company.”  

Dr. Joe Sam Robinson, Jr., and his wife Betsy Robinson, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Center for Southern Studies that supports a public reading by the prize winner at the annual presentation ceremony. The endowment honors the memory of their son Thomas Robinson and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.

About the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies

The Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies fosters critical discussions about the many meanings of the South. As the only center for Southern studies in the United States dedicated to the education and enrichment of undergraduate students, the Center’s primary purpose is to examine the region’s complex history and culture through courses, conversations and events that are open, honest and accessible.