Today the Nobel Committee announced former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück as the recipient of its 2020 prize in literature. This was a surprise—none of the “favorites” lists I’d seen included her, and considering the comments by the then-permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury in 2008 I assumed the committee would perceive American writers as inferior to their counterparts in Europe, which the secretary described as “the center of the literary world.”
The awarding of the 2016 Prize to Bob Dylan poked a hole in the former secretary’s logic, of course, but I could see how the committee might seek to expand the prize by offering it to one of the world’s greatest lyricists. It’s worth noting that Dylan was at the time the first native-born American to receive the prize in over 20 years, and one of two such recipients in a half-century. But now the country can celebrate Glück’s achievement, and she joins Joseph Brodsky as the only other Nobel winner who held the U.S. poet laureate position.
In the biographical notes to the selection, Nobel Committee Chairman Anders Olsson says: “in her own severity and unwillingness to accept simple tenets of faith she resembles more than any other poet, Emily Dickinson.” Reading that made me think of the theme to this year’s National Book Festival, “American Ingenuity.” Dickinson has meant so much to American thought and creativity, and Glück shares with her a sensibility. But they are uniquely ingenuous in other ways, too. Dickinson’s poems, and really her radical poetics—the markings and spacings that we still can’t “see” in reprints of Dickinson’s work—showcase a formal approach that still feels ahead of our time, and it makes me think of the power of invention in the American psyche. And when I think of Glück’s poems—especially in their reimagining of myth—I think of how, with directness and authority, she can circumvent time and create a charged, resonant moment. America developed in relation to—but also distinct from—European culture, and Glück reminds me of how our artists and thinkers have chosen to engage in that culture on their own terms.
For more information on Louise Glück you can check out her new Library of Congress resource guide, just launched recently!