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Nobel Literature Prize 2020

American poet Louise Glück wins 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature

American poet Louise Glück, 77, has won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature. She is seen here in 2014 at the National Book Awards in New York City.
American poet Louise Glück, 77, has won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature. She is seen here in 2014 at the National Book Awards in New York City. AFP - ROBIN MARCHANT
3 min

The winner of the 2020 Nobel Literature Prize is American poet Louise Glück, the fourth woman to be selected for the prestigious award in the past decade, and only the 16th since Nobel prizes were first awarded in 1901. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the writer will receive her prize in a televised ceremony in December.

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Louise Glück, 77, was honoured "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal," the Swedish Academy said on Thursday as it announced the prize.

Glück's work is known for its themes of childhood and family life that draw inspiration from myths and classical motifs.

A professor of English at Yale University, Glück won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her collection "The Wild Iris" and the National Book Award for her latest collection, "Faithful and Virtuous Night", in 2014.

Biting wit

The Nobel jury complimented Glück in particular for her collections "The Triumph of Achilles" (1985) and "Ararat" (1990) which address "almost brutally straightforward images of painful family relations".

"Her use of a "deceptively natural tone is striking", with "no trace of poetic ornament."

Glück is also a poet of radical change and rebirth, describing in her poem "Snowdrops" the miraculous return of life after winter, her work often marked by "humour and biting wit".

The jury said her 2006 collection "Averno" was a "masterly collection, a visionary interpretation of the myth of Persephone's descent into Hell in the captivity of Hades, the god of death."

"She writes oneiric, narrative poetry recalling memories and travels, only to hesitate and pause for new insights. The world is disenthralled, only to become magically present once again," the Academy concluded.

Not the favourite

Glück was not seen as a favourite for the Nobel in the run-up to Thursday's announcement, although several other women had been on the favourites list.

Even the chair of the Academy's Nobel committee, Anders Olsson, lamented that she was not more well-known, "at least outside the US' borders", and had not been translated into many other languages.

The Swedish Academy is however, no stranger to controversy. Last year, they gave the nod to Austrian novelist Peter Handke which unleashed a flood of criticism, as many wondered how it could award a writer known for supporting Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the Balkan wars and playing down his army's atrocities.

Glück would normally receive the Nobel from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

But the in-person ceremony has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and replaced with a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.

One million euro prize

The Nobel Prize comes with a medal and a prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly one million euros).

She is the fourth woman to win the Nobel Literature Prize in the past decade -- after Olga Tokarczuk, Svetlana Alexievich and Alice Munro -- and only the 16th since the Nobel prizes were first awarded in 1901.

So far this year, four women have won Nobel prizes, closing in on 2009's record of five female laureates.

The four this year are, in addition to Glück, Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and Jennifer Doudna of the US who shared the chemistry prize on Wednesday, and Andrea Ghez of the US who shared the physics prize with two male colleagues on Tuesday.

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