NOEL KING, HOST:
The winner of the most prestigious award in world literature was announced this morning. The award went to Louise Gluck, a high-profile American. She's previously won a Pulitzer, a Guggenheim, the National Book Award and now a Nobel Prize. Here's part of the announcement from Stockholm.
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ANDERS OLSSON: Louise Gluck's voice is unmistakable. It is candid and uncompromising. And it signals that this poet wants to be understood. But it is also a voice full of humor and biting wit.
KING: NPR's Neda Ulaby is following this one. Good morning, Neda.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: Tell me about Louise Gluck.
ULABY: Well, she is a brilliant poet. She was born in New York in 1943, and she's been publishing poetry for more than 50 years. No one is more literary establishment than Louise Gluck. She teaches at Yale. She was named the U.S. poet laureate in 2003, and she's revered for her deeply meditative reflections on personal issues, even traumas, divorce, depression, the loss of a sister. And she often draws from classical sources to create what the Swedish Academy calls, quote, "her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal," unquote.
KING: Beautiful. Can you give us an example of her work?
ULABY: Well, let's do it in her own words. We've got a clip right here.
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LOUISE GLUCK: You who do not remember passage from the other world, I tell you, I could speak again. Whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice. From the center of my life came a great fountain, deep blue shadows on azure sea water.
KING: How much of a surprise was this choice?
ULABY: Well, it was a really, really big one. Gluck was not on anybody's radar, not the speculative articles, not the bookies list. She is an extraordinary poet, only the 16th woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature. But an American won the award only three years ago, Bob Dylan. And it's frankly impossible at this point to ignore that this is now an award that's been recently dominated by white writers to a staggering degree. Eight out of the last 10 winners have been white, the other two Asian. Just to give you a sense of the Eurocentrism, more Austrian playwrights have won the Nobel Literary Award in the last 20 years than Black writers in the same period of time. A lot of people predicted and hoped that the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong'o was going to win this year. He's 82 and an elder statesman of post-colonial literature. And, Noel, I just have to tell you that I worry that the beauty and the power of Gluck's work will be overshadowed by the fact that the Swedish Academy has been overlooking so many incredibly important writers who do not come from the U.S. or Europe. And that blinkeredness is exactly what great literature is supposed to be against.
KING: Yes, indeed. Let me ask you, though. I mean, she is already, as poets go, pretty darn famous. What does a win like this mean for someone of her stature?
ULABY: Well, it will mean that a lot more people will be enjoying her poems, thankfully. Gluck was already popular, you know, as you pointed out, at least by the standards of poetry. She's in a ton of anthologies. You may have read her work in The New Yorker. But the Nobel Prize in literature does translate to a significant bump in sales for someone like Gluck, who already writes in English and has name recognition. And she's going to get the Nobel Prize in literature, which comes with the purse of more than a million dollars. So it's possible she can add a Maserati to her well-deserved shelf of trophies.
KING: A Maserati or whatever else she wants. NPR's Neda Ulaby. Thanks, Neda.
ULABY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.