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Poet with Hungarian-Jewish Roots Receives Nobel Prize in Literature

Fanni Kaszás 2020.10.08.

American poet Louise Glück, whose paternal grandparents emigrated to the US from Hungary, won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature for “her incomparable poetic voice which, with austere beauty, makes individual existence universal,” the Swedish Academy said on Thursday. 

The 77-year-old poet will be honored “for her unmistakable poetic voice,” with which she “makes individual existence universal with strict beauty,” said the permanent secretary of the academy, Mats Malm.

The new awardee, one of America’s most celebrated poets, was born in New York City on April 22, 1943, as the daughter of businessman Daniel Glück and Beatrice Glück (Grosby). The poet has Hungarian-Jewish roots, as her paternal grandparents emigrated from Hungary to the US, where they opened a vegetable store, while her father was the first in the family to be born in the US.

Glück’s first encounter with literature was of Greek mythology and the story of Jeanne d’Arc in her childhood. As a teenager, she suffered from anorexia nervosa, which remained a challenge throughout her young adulthood and affected her life and poetry. She spent seven years in therapy, which helped her overcome her illness. Later on, Glück studied at Columbia University, which provided an opportunity to train students with special needs. After university, she worked as a secretary, then married and divorced, before she published her first volume of poetry in 1968.

Since then, she has written numerous poetry collections, many of which deal with the challenges of family life and growing older. They include “The Wild Iris,” for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993, and “Faithful and Virtuous Night,” about mortality and grief, from 2014. She was named the United States’ poet laureate in 2003. Glück is the first female poet to be awarded the prize since Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish writer, in 1996.

At the Nobel announcement, Anders Olsson, the chair of the prize-giving committee, praised her minimalist voice and especially poems that get to the heart of family life. He said that “Louise Glück’s voice is unmistakable,” adding that “it is candid and uncompromising, and it signals that this poet wants to be understood.” But he also said her voice was also “full of humor and biting wit.”

This time the Nobel Prizes are endowed with ten million Swedish kronor (around 950,000 euros) per category, which is one million kroner more than in the previous year. Last year, two awardees were announced, as the 2018 prize was postponed because of a scandal involving the husband of an academy member who was accused of sexual misconduct and of leaking information to bookmakers.

Olga Tokarczuk from Poland was subsequently named the 2018 winner, while Austrian Peter Handke received the award in 2019. The Nobel Prize winners are officially honored on December 10th, the anniversary of the death of the prize donor and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

featured photo: Shawn Thew/MTI/EPA