About ‘My Mother Enters the Work Force’

  • Rita Dove


The first born of four, my mother went through the public school system, skipping two grades to end up with a high school diploma and full scholarship to Howard University at the age of sixteen. But her astonishing precocity, ironically, led her right up to an insurmountable wall: A girl of sixteen on her own, navigating the sin-soaked streets of our nation’s capital? Not a chance! My otherwise kind and open-minded grandparents feared the worst for their firstborn and formed a united front. She was too young, and female to boot. Elvira had to turn the scholarship down. When I first heard this story, I was a high school junior, contemplating colleges—the same age as my mother when her adventure was thwarted. I was appalled; how could they have denied her such a unique opportunity? And so, as a budding feminist in the early seventies, I had to come to terms with this paradox: I was a product of her lost opportunity; now it was my turn to climb the next rungs on the ladder in the ongoing quest to transcend the struggles of my race, my grandparents’ lower class, the fetters of gender … I couldn’t mess this up by becoming a writer, could I? Could I? [Includes one of her poems.]

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rita Dove
    • 1
  1. 1.LondonUK

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