American poet Louise Gluck wins Nobel literature prize

The 77-year-old was praised for her ‘unmistakable poetic voice'.

American poet Louise Gluck has won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her “candid and uncompromising” work, which looks unflinchingly and with biting humour at the losses and traumas of family life.

She joins a handful of American poets who have received the prize, which has been dominated by novelists throughout its 112-year history.

The last American to win was Bob Dylan in 2016.

She is also one of the few women — the 16th female Nobel Literature laureate.

Gluck told Sweden’s TT news agency from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that her phone was ringing off the hook, and she was struggling to express her feelings about the award.

The Nobel Committee praised Gluck “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal” in its citation.

Announcing the award in Stockholm, Mats Malm, the Swedish Academy permanent secretary, said he had spoken to Gluck, and the news “came as a surprise — but a welcome one as far as I could tell”.

New York-born Gluck, 77, who is a faculty member at Yale University, made her debut in 1968 with Firstborn, and “was soon acclaimed as one of the most prominent poets in American contemporary literature”, the committee said.

Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel literature committee, said Gluck’s 12 collections of poetry were “characterised by striving for clarity”.

They include Descending Figure, The Triumph Of Achilles and Ararat.

Sweden Nobel Literature
Books by Louise Gluck are displayed during the announcement of the 2020 Nobel Prize in literature, in Stockholm (Henrik Montgomery/TT via AP)

Mr Olsson said her verses, which often draw on classical influences and examine family life, were marked by an “austere but also playful intelligence and a refined sense of composition”.

“Louise Gluck’s voice is unmistakable. It is candid and uncompromising, and it signals that this poet wants to be understood.

But it is also voice full of humour and biting wit,” Mr Olsson said.

“This is a great resource when Gluck treats one of our great topics, radical change, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss.”

The committee noted her 2006 collection Averno, calling it “masterly” and “a visionary interpretation of the myth of Persephone’s descent into hell in the captivity of Hades, the god of death”.

Gluck is the recipient of many awards, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in Poetry and the National Humanities Medal.

She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for The Wild Iris and the National Book Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night in 2014.

She was US poet laureate from 2003 to 2004.

The Nobel comes with a gold medal and 10 million kronor (£872,000).

Still to come are prizes for outstanding work in the fields of peace and economics.

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