Former Vermont State Poet Louise Glück wins 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature

  • American poet Louise Gluck speaks with the media, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, outside her home in Cambridge, Mass. Gluck, a professor of English at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., won the 2020 Nobel Prize for literature "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal." (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Published: 10/8/2020 10:14:50 PM
Modified: 10/8/2020 10:14:46 PM

Former Vermont State Poet Louise Glück has won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The onetime Goddard College teacher and current Yale University professor received the honor “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal,” Nobel officials announced Thursday.

The 77-year-old is the first female poet to receive the prize of 10 million Swedish krona ($1.1 million) since Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska in 1996 and the first American to win since singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016.

“She writes oneiric, narrative poetry recalling memories and travels, only to hesitate and pause for new insights,” Nobel Committee Chair Anders Olsson said in a statement. “The world is disenthralled, only to become magically present once again.”

Glück was Vermont state poet from 1994 to 1998 and U.S. poet laureate in 2003-04. Her 12 poetry collections include 1992’s The Wild Iris, a Pulitzer Prize winner that chronicles the progression of a New England garden from spring to late summer.

The Nobel Committee noted the latter book’s “Snowdrops,” in which Glück describes rebirth after winter:

I did not expect to survive,

earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect

to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring —

afraid, yes, but among you again

crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

Glück, who often avoids the spotlight after saying she has “no concern with widening audience,” said she on Thursday she was still in a state of “turbulence and agitation,” with photographers camped out in front of her condominium, according to The Boston Globe.

“It’s only been in my head for a few hours,” she said, according to the newspaper. “I think it gets absorbed. I think you go back to worrying about whatever it is that you worry about.”

Nobel official Mat Malm notified Glück via phone early Thursday morning.

“The message came as a surprise but a welcome one, as far as I could tell,” Malm told the world press after calling Glück to tell her she had won.

Glück, born and raised in New York City, began writing as a teenager and took night classes with the late Stanley Kunitz, who was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.

Glück’s first published collection, 1968’s Firstborn, won the Academy of American Poets’ Prize, but she experienced writer’s block and almost quit before visiting Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., in 1971.

“I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be a writer, so I took a teaching job in Vermont, though I had spent my life till that point thinking that real poets don’t teach,” she told Poets & Writers magazine in a 2014 interview. “But I took this job, and the minute I started teaching — the minute I had obligations in the world — I started to write again.

Glück went on to instruct at several other schools, write more than a dozen books and hold such positions as Vermont state poet, joining earlier appointments such as Robert Frost and Galway Kinnell.

Glück — whose latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, won a 2014 National Book Award — now lives in Cambridge, Mass. The Nobel Committee noted that when it cited a verse “marked by humour and biting wit” from her 1999 “Vita Nova,” which concludes: “I thought my life was over and my heart was broken. / Then I moved to Cambridge.”

“Louise Glück is not only engaged by the errancies and shifting conditions of life, she is also a poet of radical change and rebirth, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss,” Nobel Chair Olsson said in his statement. “Even if Glück would never deny the significance of the autobiographical background, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. Glück seeks the universal.”

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