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Louise Glück
Louise Glück
Profile of Louise Glück Biography of Louise Glück Interview with Louise Glück Louise Glück Photo Gallery

Louise Glück Biography

Former Poet Laureate of the United States

Louise Glück Date of birth: April 22, 1943

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  Louise Glück

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Louise Glück was born in New York City and raised on Long Island. Her father Daniel Glück, an immigrant from Hungary, was a successful businessman who helped develop and market the familiar household X-Acto Knife. The members of the family pronounce their name as "Glick."

From an early age, Louise was deeply moved by language and narrative, an enthusiasm her parents encouraged. In her teens she was already submitting verses of her own composition to magazines and publishers. She graduated from high school in Hewlett, New York in 1961.

A troubled adolescent, she was diagnosed with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. She overcame these difficulties through psychoanalysis, a process she recalls as, " of the great experiences of my life. It helps me to live and it taught me to think." She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University but left without taking a degree. At Columbia's School of General Studies, she took night classes with the poets Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz, teachers she credits with helping her find her own voice.

Her first published collection of poems, Firstborn, appeared in 1968. In the book she assumes a variety of first-person voices, all angry or alienated. Some critics and readers were unsettled by the harsh tone of the poems, but more were impressed by the originality and skill of her poetic technique. Although the language of her poems, then and now, is direct and colloquial, she made fluent use of the traditional tools of rhyme and meter. The critical success of the book, which won the Academy of American Poets' Prize, led to offers to teach in college writing programs, but Glück turned these offers down, fearing that a teaching job would distract her from her writing. She tried to support herself with secretarial work while concentrating on her poetry, but following her first book she experienced a profound writers' block and considered giving up writing altogether.

Louise Glück Biography Photo
She was living in Provincetown, Massachusetts, when she was invited to attend a writers' gathering at Goddard College in Vermont. She agreed to attend, hoping to meet one of her literary heroes, the poet John Berryman. Glück fell in love with the atmosphere of rural Vermont and, encouraged by other writers she met there, decided to look for teaching work after all. Rather than inhibiting her creativity, as she had feared, she found the experience of teaching an exhilarating one and felt inspired to write again. Over the next decade she would teach at a number of colleges and universities including Goddard College and the University of Iowa.

Her second book, The House on Marshland, appeared in 1975. As in her first, she assumed a number of personae, including Joan of Arc, a favorite character of Glück's childhood. The use of historical figures such as St. Joan -- as well as characters from fairy tales, from the Bible and from classical mythology -- would remain a defining characteristic of her work throughout her later career.

Over the course of her career, Glück would sometimes experience periods of intense productivity followed by months or even years of creative inactivity. Her third book, The Garden, followed within a year of her second, but her next book, Descending Figure, did not appear until 1980.

In 1983 she accepted a lectureship at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a post she would hold for the next two decades. She taught for one semester a year, making the three-hour trip once a week from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the week, she stayed with a family in Williamstown, returning to Cambridge for the weekends. Her next book, The Triumph of Achilles (1985), continued her use of mythological themes and characters and showed a marked unity of subject matter from beginning to end. The book was well received and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.

Ararat (1990) marked a significant transition in Glück's work. Rather than merely collecting poems written on diverse themes and occasions over a given period of time, Ararat represented a sustained portrayal of a given set of characters, three women dealing with the death of a husband and father. Although the book received some indifferent reviews at the time, it won the Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress and has since become one of her most admired works.

Louise Glück Biography Photo
The 1990s would prove to be one of the most acclaimed and productive decades of Glück's career. In 1992 she published one of her best-loved books, The Wild Iris. The 54 poems in the book were written in only ten weeks and follow the progression from spring to late summer in a New England garden. The Wild Iris received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, as well as the award of the Poetry Society of America, a prize named for a favorite poet of Louise Glück's, William Carlos Williams. The Wild Iris was followed within a year by Mock Orange. In 1994 she also published her one prose collection, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry. The success of The Wild Iris increased demand for Glück's earlier works, and in 1995 an edition of The First Four Books of Poems appeared.

Her 1997 book Meadowlands juxtaposes the Homeric tale of Odysseus, Penelope, and their son Telemachus with a modern tale of marriage and divorce. The title alludes to both the sports stadium in New Jersey and the traditional setting of pastoral poetry. Louise Glück has never sought publicity, and has always been reticent about discussing her personal life, but many readers saw this book as a response to the end of Glück's marriage, her second, and its effect on her and her son.

Vita Nova (1999) takes it title from Dante and links the poet's experience of loss and recovery to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In 2000 Louise Glück received the coveted Bollingen Prize for Poetry, awarded every two years by Yale University. The same year she began a three-year term as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress for its bicentennial observances. She continued to write at a steady pace, publishing The Seven Ages in 2001.

Louise Glück Biography Photo
The year 2003 was a momentous one for Glück. After 20 years at Williams College, she accepted an appointment as Rosencranz Writer in Residence at Yale University. In August she was named by the Library of Congress to serve a one-year term as United States Poet Laureate. A poem in six parts, October, was published in one volume towards the end of the year.

Glück's tenth book of verse, Averno (2006), takes its name from a lake in southern Italy, which the ancient Romans believed was the entrance to the underworld. Her interest in the history and culture of the Mediterranean continues to inform her work. Her 2009 book A Village Life chronicles the life of a small town in an unnamed Mediterranean country, as a traditional way of life, tied to the rhythms of nature, gradually gives way to the pressures of modernity. A Village Life won some of the best reviews of Glück's career and confirmed her reputation as a major voice in American letters.

Five decades of her work were gathered in her Collected Poems 1962-2012. She continues to reside in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to teach at Yale University. She is in demand as a public speaker, and reads her work to appreciative audiences across the United States.

This page last revised on Aug 02, 2013 19:45 EDT
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