Biography of Louise Gluck

Louise Glück (pronounced to rhyme with "click") is an American poet, born on April 22, 1943 in New York City. As a girl growing up on Long Island, Glück read poetry widely, and took a special liking to the work of William Blake. When holding a competition in her mind between William Blake's "Little Black Boy" and the song "Swanee River" (to determine which was the best poem she had yet read), she realized that both shared the tone of a solitary voice in lament, and this realization drove her to feel her own sense of vocation as a writer. Glück then took up writing as a young girl, sending out work to magazines in her early teens and continuing to read poetry widely while also learning classical history and mythology from her parents. Though her father's interest in history and her mother's appreciation for the arts had an impact on her work, Glück has said that her parents did not necessarily value literary education when she was a young girl.

As a teenager, Glück was rather withdrawn and developed anorexia, something Glück would later reflect on as an attempt to defy or lash out at her mother's excessive willpower and sense of ownership over her children. Glück's eating disorder eventually became so severe that she was removed from high school, something that led her to start seeking the help of a psychoanalyst. Not only was this investment in psychoanalysis key to Glück's recovery, but Glück also attributes a great deal of her creative thought process to the methods of psychoanalysis. Though she was focused on her treatment and did not physically attend high school for her much of her senior year, she eventually graduated. After graduating from high school, Glück remained focused on her treatment, enrolling in poetry classes at Sarah Lawrence College for a couple of months. Afterwards, she enrolled at Columbia University through the School of General Studies, where she studied poetry under Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz. Glück credits Adams and Kunitz as major influences on her work—pushing her hard, teaching her about the devotion required by the poetic craft, and instructing her to have a thick skin when dealing with criticism of one's own work.

Glück eventually left Columbia without a degree and pursued secretarial work, writing on the side in the meantime. This led to the publication of Firstborn, her first collection of poetry, in 1968. Also in the late 1960s, Glück was invited to a colloquium at Goddard College in Vermont, where she found a sense of belonging and stability that made her want to stay there. Later, she received an invitation to teach at Goddard, and it was while living in Vermont that she started to write the poems for her second collection, The House on Marshland (1975). Glück has said that her earliest days as a teacher inspired her to be a better writer, since having the opportunity to read the work of other writers changed the way that she thought and saw the world.

As Glück continued to write, her adoption of poetic personae—something that had already been noted by critics as one of her signature techniques—grew more extensive and varied in approach. Her longstanding interests in history, biblical narrative, and mythology, for example, undergird poems like "Jeanne d'Arc," where she assumes the poetic persona of the titular Joan of Arc. In her next three collections, Descending Figure (1980), The Triumph of Achilles (1985), and Ararat (1990), Glück continued to interweave the personal search for meaning and self-understanding with the stories of canonical figures from history and literature. Beginning in 1983, Glück also started teaching at Williams College, where she taught future poets like Claudia Rankine.

Glück's most critically acclaimed work came in the form of 1992's The Wild Iris, for which she received a Pulitzer Prize the following year. Heavily foregrounded in The Wild Iris is the theme of nature, something that has also come to define Glück's body of poetry as a site of personal revelation and ecstatic regeneration. Her appropriation and reworking of canon, too, continued throughout the 1990s. In Meadowlands (1996), for example, Glück showcases imagined dialogue between Odysseus and Penelope. In 1999's Vita Nova, Glück borrows from Dante to regain her creative composure after the collapse of her second marriage (to writer John Dranow). The Seven Ages (2001) soon followed. In 2001 also, Glück received the Bollingen Prize for lifetime achievement in poetry.

From 2003-2004, Glück served as the Poet Laureate of the United States, a position once held by her good friend Robert Pinsky. Additionally, in 2003, Glück published October, a book-length meditation on loss and trauma that draws on Greek myths. It was also in 2003 that Glück was named Rosenkranz Writer-in-Residence at Yale University, a position she holds to this day. In 2006, Averno showcased Glück's creative retelling of the Persephone myth. Over the course of the late 2000s, Glück's style then underwent a major shift: the spare, New-England-centered meditations of her earlier work gave way to lush descriptions and movement across the Atlantic. 2009's A Village Life, for example, lavishly depicts life in a small town on the Mediterranean. A collection of her life's work was then published in Poems 1962–2012 (2012). Given retrospective on Glück's body of work in this way, critics have continued to reiterate the centrality of nature, trauma, and personal excavation to her craft. Unlike the Confessional poets she is often grouped with (like Robert Lowell and her own hero John Berryman), however, for Glück the idea of a fictive privacy or an incomplete understanding of the self and the audience are essential, as the Los Angeles Review of Books' Michael Robbins has pointed out. Glück seems to be writing only for herself and in order to discover the meaning inherent in the world, even if it this is not possible within the constraints of poetry that is widely circulated.

Following Poems, Glück then returned to the poetry publishing scene with Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014), her most recent collection of poetry. The collection revisits the poet's life from the perspective of old age and, in doing so, touches on the same themes of certainty versus doubt, death versus regeneration, and nature that are present in her earlier work. At the same time, however, Glück has departed significantly in Night from her earlier work. For example, she maintains the use of personae, but the major persona in this collection is a British man, raised in the countryside. Where Glück's earlier work was heavily structural and relied on repetition and meter to build rhythm, Night sees an abundance of prose poems. Nonetheless, Faithful and Virtuous Night was received by critics as the next stage in the evolution of Glück's style, and she was awarded the National Book Award for it in 2014.

Since Faithful and Virtuous Night, Glück has continued to teach at Yale and has written a collection of essays on poetry (American Originality; 2017). Most recently, on October 8, 2020, Glück was announced as the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first American woman to be so honored since Toni Morrison in 1993. When announcing her receipt of the prize, the Swedish Academy praised her "unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal." The candor of her tone, her biting wit, and the distinct quality of her poetic voice were all also lauded by the Academy.

Study Guides on Works by Louise Gluck

"Gretel in Darkness" is a 1975 poem by the American poet Louise Glück, exploring themes of trauma and justice through a retelling of the well-known fairytale "Hansel and Gretel." It was first published in Glück's collection The House on the...

The Wild Iris is a collection of poems published in 1992 by American poet Louise Glück. Considered to be among the most talented American contemporary poets, Glück is known for her technical mastery, the distinct voices in her poems, and her...