The poet Louise Glück has become the first American woman to win the Nobel prize for literature in 27 years, cited for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”. Glück is the 16th woman to win the Nobel, and the first American woman since Toni Morrison took the prize in 1993. The American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was a surprise winner in 2016.
One of America’s leading poets, the 77-year-old writer has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, tackling themes including childhood and family life, often reworking Greek and Roman myths.
The chair of the Nobel prize committee, Anders Olsson hailed Glück’s “candid and uncompromising” voice, which is “full of humor and biting wit”. Her 12 collections of poetry, including her most recent Faithful and Virtuous Night, the Pulitzer-winning The Wild Iris, and the “masterly” Averno, are “characterized by a striving for clarity”, he added, comparing her to Emily Dickinson with her “severity and unwillingness to accept simple tenets of faith”.
Born in New York City in 1943, Louise Glück grew up on Long Island and attended Columbia University. She has taught poetry in many universities and is currently an adjunct professor of English at Yale. The award will mark a change for a writer who has often avoided the spotlight. When Glück was appointed as US poet laureate in 2003, she said she had “no concern with widening audience”, and that she preferred her audience “small, intense, passionate”.
In a short interview conducted in the early hours of Thursday morning, Glück told the Nobel prize: “My first thought was, I won’t have any friends because most of my friends are writers. But then I thought, that won’t happen. It is too new, you know? I don’t know what it means. It is a great honor. There are recipients I don’t admire. But I think of the ones I do.”