77-year-old American poet Louise Gluck wins Nobel Prize for Literature

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Yale 2020 Nobel Prize Image

American poet Louise Gluck has won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature for works exploring family and childhood in an “unmistakable…voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”, the Swedish Academy said yesterday.

Academy Permanent Secretary Mats Malm said Gluck, 77, also a multiple winner of U.S. literary awards, was “surprised and happy” at the news when it came in the early morning hours U.S. time. She gave no immediate comment to reporters, who gathered outside her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A professor of English at Yale University, Gluck first rose to critical acclaim with her 1968 collection of poems entitled “Firstborn”, and went on to become one of the most celebrated poets and essayists in contemporary America.

The Swedish Academy said in Gluck’s works “the self-listens for what is left of its dreams and delusions, and nobody can be harder than she in confronting illusions of the self”.

Drawing comparisons with other authors, the Academy said Gluck resembled 19th-century U.S. poet Emily Dickinson in her “severity and unwillingness to accept simple tenets of faith”.

Gluck becomes the 16th woman to win the literary world’s most prestigious distinction since the Nobel prizes were launched more than a century ago.

While she draws on her own experiences in her poetry, Gluck, who is twice divorced and suffered from anorexia in younger years, explores universal themes that resonate with readers in the United States and abroad.

Erica McAlpine, associate professor of English at Britain’s Oxford University, said Gluck “has managed to feel urgently contemporary and yet simultaneously timeless”. She added:

“The occasional bleakness of her voice speaks, especially well to our present moment, and yet her poetry has always been intimately connected to the long lyric tradition behind it.

In her poems, “love, loss, desire and beauty wear the specific dress of her own life while turning the everyday into something mythical,” McAlpine added.

Jonathan Galassi, president of her publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, said via email he was certain the Nobel Prize would bring Gluck “to many, many new readers”.

“She is one of the rare contemporary poets whose work has the gift of speaking directly to readers through her great and subtle art,” he said.

Gluck was awarded a U.S. Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her poetry collection “The Wild Iris”, with the title poem touching on suffering and redolent with imagery of the natural world.

She was Poet Laureate of the United States in 2003-04, and won the U.S. National Book Award for her collection “Faithful and Virtuous Night” six years ago.

In 2015, President Barack Obama honoured Gluck with the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, saying her “probing poems capture the quiet drama of nature and the quiet emotions of everyday people”.

Nobel prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry were awarded earlier this week, and the peace prize is to be announced today.

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