Louise Glück Is Awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature

Born in New York City in 1943, Glück grew up on Long Island, and was drawn to reading poetry and writing poetry as a child. She wrote some of her earliest verses when she was 5, and set her mind to becoming a poet when she was in her early teens. She struggled with anorexia as a teenager, a disease she later attributed to her obsession with purity and achieving control, and almost starved herself to death before eventually recovering through therapy.

She began taking poetry workshops around that time, and attended Sarah Lawrence College and later Columbia University, where she studied with the poet Stanley Kunitz. She supported herself by working as a secretary so that she could write on the side. In 1968, she published her first collection, “Firstborn.” While her debut was well received by critics, she wrestled with writers’ block afterward and took a teaching position at Goddard College in Vermont. Working with students inspired her to start writing again, and she went on to publish a dozen volumes of poetry.

In much of her work, Glück draws inspiration from classical mythological figures. In her 1996 collection, “Meadowlands,” she weaves together the figures of Odysseus and Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey with the story of the dissolution of a modern-day marriage. In her 2006 collection, “Averno,” she used the myth of Persephone as a lens to mother-daughter relationships, suffering, aging and death.

Glück’s verses often reflect her preoccupation with dark themes — isolation, betrayal, fractured family and marital relationships, death. But her spare, distilled language, and her frequent recourse to familiar mythological figures, gives her poetry a universal and timeless feel, said the critic and writer Daniel Mendelsohn, the editor at large for The New York Review of Books.

“When you read her poems about these difficult things, you feel cleansed rather than depressed,” he said. “This is one of the purest poetic sensibilities in world literature right now. It’s a kind of absolute poetry, poetry with no gimmicks, no pandering to fads or trends. It has the quality of something standing almost as outside of time.”

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