Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Recognition as Poet

BOND: When you look back over your life, did a point come when you said I am a leader and if so, what was that point?

DOVE: Hmmm — I don't know if there was a point where I said I am a leader.

BOND: Or people think of me as a leader?

DOVE: Well, yeah. When I got the Pulitzer which came for me completely out of the blue. I was, in fact, sweeping the floor at the moment when I heard about it, preparing for a surprise birthday party for my husband. It was his 40th birthday. When I got the call from my English department chair at Arizona State University, he said to me, "you got the Pulitzer," and I said, "no." He said, "yes." I said, "no." And then he said, "I'm going to arrange a press conference." I said, "I've never done a press conference. I don't know how to do a press conference." He said, "you'll learn." We hung up and in that moment I stood there [laughs] and I felt the world's lights come on and at that point, I think I did feel that I was becoming a leader of some sort.

BOND: That was kind of a stamp of yes, you are.

DOVE: Yes. And I said, okay, I'm going to learn. When I became Poet Laureate, it was reinforced because people would write in to me and say things like, "you are my role model," or I realized that the office itself of being Poet Laureate made me into the representative of poetry for the country and that was another one little step up on that leadership board. All right, somebody said, okay, whether you want it or not, you are representing poetry and how can you best do that.