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This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the US poet Louise Glück, who was being recognised for “her unmistakable poetic voice, that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal” said the Swedish Academy, which oversees the award. But prior to this announcement not many people knew who is Gluck.
Born in New York City on April 22, 1943, and currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She made her debut in 1968 with her collection, Firstborn, written from a variety of disaffected or angry voices, which disturbed critics at the time. She has drawn comparisons to poets including George Eliot, John Keats, and Emily Dickinson.
To date, she has published 12 collections of poetry, as well as volumes of essays on poetry. Her core themes include childhood, family life, and the close relationship between parents and siblings. She also takes inspiration from Greek mythology and its characters, such as Persephone and Eurydice, who are often the victims of betrayal.
Louise Glück is the daughter of Daniel and Beatrice Glück. Their first daughter died before Louise was born, an event that would affect the poet profoundly and has influenced the themes of loss and grief in her works. Another daughter was born after Louise’s birth.
Glück had a solid knowledge of the Greek myths by the age of three. Her father, who wanted to be a writer but eventually decided to go into business with his brother-in-law, and her mother, who admired creative gifts and appreciated the arts, encouraged Glück and her sister to develop any inclinations or talents they had in such areas.
As an adolescent Glück developed anorexia nervosa, a condition she has described as a manifestation of the ravenous need for control and an independent self as well as a hunger for praise. Her anorexia eventually became so severe that she withdrew from high school in her last year to begin psychoanalytic sessions, which would last seven years.
Having graduated from Long Island’s Hewlett High School in 1961 and attended Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, in 1962, Glück studied at Columbia University during 1963-1966 and 1967-1968. She enrolled in a poetry workshop where poet and teacher Stanley Kunitz significantly influenced her. In 1966 Glück won the Academy of American Poets Prize, and in 1967, the same year that she married Charles Hertz, Jr., a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. In 1968 Glück’s first book, Firstborn, was published, followed by her receipt of a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1969.
In 1975, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her second book, The House on Marshland, was published. Glück spent 1976-1977 as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa while also serving as a faculty member and member of the M.F.A. Writing Program board at Goddard College; this position lasted until 1980, the same year that her book Descending Figure was published. In 1977 Glück married her second husband, John Dranow, and then accepted a position as professor of poetry at the University of Cincinnati in the spring of 1978, with a visiting professorship at Columbia University in 1979.
In 1985, Glück received several awards from the National Book Critics Circle, The Boston Globe, and the Poetry Society of America for The Triumph of Achilles, her fourth book. Glück’s fifth book, Ararat, won the Bobbitt National Prize. This was followed by the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America for her sixth book, The Wild Iris (1992). Her book of essays on poetry, Proofs and Theories (1994), won the Martha Albrand Award for nonfiction from PEN. Meadowlands was published in 1996, and Glück was appointed special consultant to the Library of Congress in 1999. Among the other awards she has received the 2014 National Book Award, the latter won for her latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night.
She is the fourth woman to win the prize for literature since 2010, and only the 16th since the Nobel prizes were first awarded in 1901 – previous female winners include Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer.. The last American to win was Bob Dylan in 2016.
The Nobel Prize for Literature was postponed in 2018 after sexual abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, the secretive body that chooses the winners, and sparked a mass exodus of members. Two laureates were named last year, with the 2018 prize going to Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, and the 2019 award to Austria’s Peter Handke.
Handke’s prize was controversial due to his support for the Serbs during the Balkan Wars. The author, who has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes, was branded the runner-up of “international moron of the year” by Salman Rushdie in 1999. Several countries including Albania, Bosnia and Turkey boycotted the Nobel awards ceremony in protest of Handke’s win, while a member of the committee that nominates candidates for the literature prize resigned.
This year the academy was widely expected to select a more ‘neutral’ choice for the 10 million kronor (more than $1.1m/£870,000) prize.