American poet Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her “unmistakable poet voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” This makes Glück the 16th woman to win the prize, and the first American woman to win since Toni Morrison in 1993.
The prestigious award is renowned for being awarded to writers the Swedish Academy deem have produced the most outstanding work “in an ideal direction.” This year, the prize is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000).
In announcing the 2020 winner, Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, described Glück’s poetic voice as “candid and uncompromising and signals that this poet wants to be understood. He continued with: “three characteristics unite to reoccur in her work: the topic of family life, an austere but also playful intelligence and a refined sense of composition.” Comparing her to the famous writer Emily Dickinson, Louise Glück’s work has a “severity and unwillingness to accept simple tenets of faith.”
Born in 1943, Louise Glück is a professor of English at Yale University. She made her debut into the literary world in 1968 with Firstborn and has written 12 collections of poetry and two books of essays in total. Her most recent collection was 2014’s Faithful and Virtuous Night. Across her work, she is known for exploring themes such as trauma, death and healing, sparking conversation amongst scholars as to whether she is confessional or not, with Olsson stating: “She is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality.” He added “even if Glück would never deny the significance of the autobiographical background, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet.”
The Nobel Prize is not her first win, as the poet has also won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993 for her collection The Wild Iris and won the National Book Award in 2014. In 2016, the poet was also invited to the White House to receive the National Humanities Medal from US president Barack Obama.
In celebrating Glück’s success, the Nobel committee praised the poem ‘Snowdrops’ from collection The Wild Iris. In the poem, Glück evokes feelings of reinvigoration and reawakening after winter with the lines: “I did not expect to survive, / earth suppressing me, / I didn’t expect / to waken again, to feel / in damp earth my body / able to respond again…” I knew very little of Glück before her win, but with the beauty emanating from these lines, it’s safe to say I will be dipping my toes into her award-winning work. If you’re a fan of poetry that explores important themes such as the painful reality of being human, death, family life and recovery, Louise Glück is the writer to read.
Words by Lucy Lillystone
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