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”, said the Swedish Academy.
Academy Permanent Secretary Mats Malm said that 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 comment to journalists 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 titled “Firstborn”, and went on to become one of the most celebrated poets and essayists in contemporary America.
The Swedish Academy said that 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”.
While describing her work as “engaged by the errancies and shifting conditions of life”, the Academy said Gluck was “also a poet of radical change and rebirth, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss.”
Born in New York, 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.