American Poet Louise Glück Wins Nobel Prize for Literature: Her Life and Work

In 2020, Louise Glück became the latest American poet to win the Nobel Prize for Literature since musician Bob Dylan was given the prestigious recognition in 2016.

Unlike Dylan, Glück’s name is not a household word, but she is well-known among the literary establishment and can be said to have millions of fans. She previously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1993) and was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2003.

Winning the Nobel has introduced her to many more readers.

Started Writing as a Child

Glück was born in New York City to father Daniel Glück. He was a businessman whose claim to fame is that he invented the popular hobby tool — the X-Acto Knife. Her mother, Beatrice Glück, was a homemaker. Beatrice was a graduate of Wellesley College, and she steeped her daughter in stories of Greek mythology and famous historical figures, such as Joan of Arc.

This prompted Louise to began writing poetry and prose at an early age. Her life would take a significant turn as she entered her early teens and developed anorexia nervosa, a condition most common to young women who have a psychological need to starve themselves. She spent the next decade struggling with the disease. The epic battle she fought over anorexia would shape her outlook, poetry and world view for the rest of her life.

Deadly, Life-Altering Medical Condition

Anorexia also derailed her college career. She managed to eke out a high school diploma at George W. Hewlett High School. She opted not to attend college in favor of concentrating on years of psychotherapy to cope with her anorexia. She ultimately came to believe her condition was rooted in her desire to detach herself from her mother, although she felt the death of an older sister contributed to her condition.

Though she never earned a college degree, Glück studied poetry at Sarah Lawrence University and Columbia College, taking courses offered for non-enrolled students. She was fortunate to have studied directly under world-renowned poets Léonie Fuller Adams and Stanley Kunitz. It was during this time she began to publish poems. Among her first accepted works were those that appeared in top publications, such as Mademoiselle, the New Yorkers, The Atlantic Monthly and The Nation.

Poetic Style and University Scholar

In her early 20s, Glück supported herself by working as a secretary. She married Charles Hertz in 1967, but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1968, Glück published her first book or poetry which garnered mostly positive reviews. That was followed by nearly four years of writer’s block which stymied her output. She finally broke through and published a second book of collected poems in 1971. That same year she began to teach college at Vermont’s Goddard College. By 1984, Glück was a senior lecturer at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Glück’s poetry is noted for its dark tone and linguistic precision. Her poems do not use rhyme or alliteration. Her early work works tended to be short, concise and lyrical. Her style evolved to lengthy, almost book-length passages described as conversational. She is noted for exploring heavy themes involving death, suffering and failed relationship with suggestions of ways to heal from life’s traumas.

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