After being mired in controversy for a while, the Nobel Prize for Literature 2020 has been awarded to American poet and essayist Louise Glück. This makes her the first US winner since poet and singer Bob Dylan in 2016. Glück has received a host of literary prizes over the years including the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her collection The Wild Iris and the National Book Award in 2014.
Upon conferring on her the honour, the Swedish Academy praised her inimitable writing style. “The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to the American poet Louise Glück for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”
“You have to live your life if you’re going to do original work. Your work will come out of an authentic life …”
– Louise Glück, awarded this year’s #NobelPrize in Literature.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 8, 2020
Born in 1943, Glück is a professor of English at Yale University and carved her path in the literary scene in 1968 with her collection, Firstborn. Her strong grasp over technical control as well as her rich use of language stood out from then itself. This clarity marked her oeuvre along with her pointed insights on themes like relationships, death, failed love encounters and deaths.
She is also known for her visionary reworking of Greek and Roman myths as evidenced in her 2006 collection Averno, a masterful retelling of the myth of Persephone’s descent into hell and captivity of the god of death, Hades. Her other works include Descending Figure, The Triumph of Achilles and Ararat. In a report in AP, Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel literature committee, praised the poet’s 12 collections of poems for being a testament of her “striving for clarity”. Olsson, was further quoted saying that her verses are “austere but also playful intelligence and a refined sense of composition,” and her voice “candid and uncompromising”.
In the article, Nothing Remains of Love in New York Times, critic William Logan expounds on her style. “Louise Glück’s wary, pinch-mouthed poems have long represented the logical outcome of a certain strain of confessional verse — starved of adjectives, thinned to a nervous set of verbs, intense almost past bearing, her poems have been dark, damaged and difficult to avert your gaze from,” Logan writes. He goes on to write how her prose is funny in a ghoulish way, probably one that sparks for being too dark. “Every desire in Glück is cautious, every pleasure suspect. She’s almost a feral poet, beadily watching her prey before making a devastating remark — her favourite form of greeting is the ambush. Yet such wariness betrays a terrible sensual longing, sustained despite the inevitable disappointment. Even eating a tomato is antic with danger,” he further adds.
In many ways, his description puts Glück as an almost Plathian figure, an analogy Logan too concedes to. “Glück remains our great poet of annihilation and disgust, our demigoddess of depression,” he writes and the more one readers her work, this superlative-laded description makes more sense.
Her other notable works include The Triumph of Achilles, published in 1985 where she exhibited enviable control over her craft, making figures from history part of her own, guiding the readers’ reading intimately but also with rare authority. Her another work, The Wild Iris for which she won the Pulitzer is a creative achievement for being bringing together the universal and topical, the human and the universal with the same clarity she has exercised over the years. She also published a collection of illuminating essays, titled Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry which won her the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction in 1993.
In 2018, The Nobel Prize for Literature was postponed amidst allegations of sex abuse. Following this, in 2019 two winners were announced: Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk for 2018 Austria’s Peter Handke in 2019. The announcement of Handke’s prize also stirred another controversy for the author has been considered an apologist for Serbian war crime.
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