2020 Nobel Prize in Literature for American poet Louise Gluck

Posted by Speakeasy News > Monday 12 October 2020 > In the News

American poet Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”, the Swedish Academy said on Thursday.

She is the fourth woman to win a Nobel Prize this year and just the 16th woman to get the Nobel for literature since it was started in 1901.

Louise Gluck is the first American to win the prestigious award since Bob Dylan in 2016. Toni Morrison was the last American to receive the prize before him, winning in 1993.

Louise Glück, is a discreet poet, born in 1943 in New York, who teaches English at Yale University. She made her debut in 1968 with “Firstborn,” and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for The Wild Iris and the National Book Award in 2014. She was U.S. Poet Laureate 2003-2004.

She has published 12 collections of poetry and several volumes of essays on poetry.

She was also awarded with the National Humanities Medal by Barack Obama at the White House in 2015.

In France, she has no books published and only few lovers of poetry have had the chance to read her texts. We must salute the poetry magazines, and in particular Po&sie which provides L'Iris sauvage, translated by Marie Olivier.

The Poems
"Austere" is a common description of poems whose subject matter is frequently failed relationships, family breakdowns, agony, despair and death. It can appear confessional but the acutely observed situations are recounted through personae. She often takes inspiration from Greek mythology and its characters, such as Persephone, Penelope and Eurydice, turning its age-old lens onto her observations of modern life. She is also known for her direct, almost conversational language.

You can get a taste of her poetry on the Poetry Foundation site and on Poets.org, which has a number of audio recordings of her work.

Here is a short extract from the title poem from her 1999 collection Vita Nova.

Islands in the distance. My mother
holding out a plate of little cakes—

as far as I remember, changed
in no detail, the moment
vivid, intact, having never been
exposed to light, so that I woke elated, at my age
hungry for life, utterly confident—

By the tables, patches of new grass, the pale green
pieced into the dark existing ground.

Surely spring has been returned to me, this time
not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet
it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly.

"Vita Nova" from Vita Nova by Louise Glück. Copyright © 1999 by Louise Glück.  HarperCollins Publishers.

To go further with your classroom
Nobel Prize Lessons – Literature Prize 2020
This is a teacher’s guide for a Nobel Prize lesson – a complete lesson on the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, which is awarded to Louise Glück, one of the most important poets in American literature today. The lesson is planned to take about 45 minutes.