American poet Louise Glück wins Nobel Prize in Literature

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American poet Louise Gluck speaks with the media, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, outside her home in Cambridge, Mass. Gluck, a professor of English at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., won the 2020 Nobel Prize for literature "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal." (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

STOCKHOLM – Louise Glück, an American poet long revered for the power, inventiveness and concision of her work and for her generosity to younger writers, has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Nobel Committee on Thursday praised her as “candid and uncompromising” in granting a rare honor for a U.S. poet, with Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Frost among her predecessors who were bypassed. Glück spoke briefly to reporters waiting outside her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, saying she felt “agitation, joy, gratitude.”

Glück is a former U.S. poet laureate who had already received virtually every honor possible for a poet, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for “The Wild Iris," the National Book Award in 2014 for “Faithful and Virtuous Night” and a National Humanities Medal in 2015. She is just the 16th woman to get the Nobel for literature since it was started in 1901.

“As one of our most celebrated American poets, we are thrilled that Louise Glück has received this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature," Michael Jacobs, chairman of the Academy of American Poets, said in a statement. “Her poems, her overall body of work, and her utterly distinctive voice, present the human condition in memorable, breathtaking language.”

A native of New York City, descended in part from Hungarian Jews, Glück began reading poetry obsessively as a child, and by her early teens, she was already trying to have her work published. She struggled with anorexia as an adolescent, later saying that her eating disorder was less an expression of despair than of her desire to free the soul from the confines of her body, a theme that later arose in her work. The 77-year-old Glück has drawn from both personal experience and common history and mythology, whether revisiting the final section of “The Iliad” in “Penelope's Song” or the abduction of Persephone in “Persephone's Song,” in which she imagines Persephone “lying in the bed of Hades”:

“What is in her mind?/ Is she afraid? Has something/ blotted out the idea/ of mind?”

Anders Olson, chairman of the Nobel literature committee, said that “Glück seeks the universal, and in this she takes inspiration from myths and classical motifs, present in most of her works. The voices of Dido, Persephone and Eurydice –- the abandoned, the punished, the betrayed -– are masks for a self in transformation, as personal as it is universally valid.”

Glück's poetry collections also include “Descending Figure,” “Ararat” and “The Triumph of Achilles,” winner of the National Book Critics Circle prize in 1985. It contains one of her most anthologized poems, the spare and despairing “Mock Orange,” in which a flowering shrub becomes the focus of a wider wail of anguish about sex and life: “How can I rest? / How can I be content / when there is still / that odor in the world?”