I got the Pulitzer on my husband’s 40th birthday, and I was planning a surprise party, and I didn’t have classes that day. I told everyone at the university, “Don’t call me, I’m going to surprise him.” And when the phone rang and it was the chair of my department saying, “I know you’re there” — speaking through the answering machine — I was, “Shhhh!” — thinking, “He’s not supposed to disturb me! This is my day!” So when he said, “Rita, this is really important,” and I realized his voice was several octaves higher than usual, that was the moment when I really felt like, sort of like the camera lights came on into my life. It was quite distinct.

The second big surprise was when I was appointed Poet Laureate. Again, it came totally out of the blue because most Poet Laureates had been considerably older than I. It was not something that I even had begun to dream about! I thought, after the Pulitzer, at least nothing will surprise me quite that much again in my life. And another one happened. It was quite amazing.