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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Nobel Prize in Literature


This year the most coveted award goes to ….  “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”. 

What is the hallmark of quality literature ?  -  There are awards for several forms of writing such as poetry and novels.   Literature broadly is any collection of written or oral work, but it more commonly and narrowly refers to writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry, in contrast to academic writing and newspapers.

In Tamil language, we have high standards and great order. Sangam literature comprises one of the largest known ancient body of works in any language, much of which is available today. The earliest we hear of Tamil literary activity are epoch-making events: the three sangam or conventions between 300 BCE and 300 CE. There is this  legend about “Sangapalagai”   – in those  olden days, the works of any Tamil poet could be accepted only with the approval of Madurai Tamil Sangam. For this, the work written on palm leaves recorded with  “Ezhuthani”- would  be placed on the “Sangapalagai”  floating on the "Potramarai Kulam" (The Golden Lotus Pond) of Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple .. ..

Literature, its  Latin root literatura/litteratura (from littera: letter of the alphabet or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts. Developments in print technology have allowed an ever-growing distribution and proliferation of written works, which now includes electronic literature. The news is that the  Nobel Prize in Literature 2020 has been awarded to Louise Glück "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

American poet Louise Glück, 77, has won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature for her 'candid and uncompromising' work.   The New York native joins a handful of American poets who have received the prize, which has been dominated by novelists since the first award in 1901. The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"   The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895.  Glück's 12 poetry collections include 'Descending Figure', 'Ararat' and 'The Triumph of Achilles'  She is also one of the few women honored - the 16th female Nobel Literature laureate. Glück is the first American to win the award since Bob Dylan was honored in 2016. Before Dylan, Toni Morrison won in 1993.  

Announcing the award in Stockholm, Mats Malm, the Swedish Academy permanent secretary, said he had spoken to Glück, and the news 'came as a surprise - but a welcome one as far as I could tell'. The 77-year-old, who shuns most publicity, told Sweden's TT news agency from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that her phone was ringing off the hook, and she was struggling to express her feelings about the award.  In a 2012 interview with the Academy of Achievement, Glück noted that 'worldly honor makes existence in the world easier' but said he true goal as an artist was 'not capable of being had in my lifetime.'  'I want to live after I die, in that ancient way,' she said. 'And there's no way of knowing whether that will happen, and there will be no knowing, no matter how many blue ribbons have been plastered to my corpse.'

New York-born Glück, who is an adjunct professor of English at Yale University, made her debut in 1968 with 'Firstborn', and 'was soon acclaimed as one of the most prominent poets in American contemporary literature,' the committee said. Raised in a family with Hungarian Jewish origins, Glück has spoken of how a teenage struggle with anorexia, and the therapy she received for it, influenced her incisive writing. 'Louise Glück's voice is unmistakable. It is candid and uncompromising, and it signals that this poet wants to be understood. But it is also voice full of humor and biting wit,' said Anders Olsson, chairman of the Nobel literature committee. 'This is a great resource when Glück treats one of our great topics, radical change, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss.'

Olsson said Glück's 12 collections of poetry were 'characterized by striving for clarity.' Her verses, which often draw on classical Greek and Roman myths and examine family life, were marked by an 'austere but also playful intelligence and a refined sense of composition,' he said. Glück's poetry collections include 'Descending Figure,' 'Ararat' and 'The Triumph of Achilles,' which was published in 1985 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In contains one of her most anthologized poems, the spare and despairing 'Mock Orange,' in which a flowering shrub becomes the focus of a wider wail of anguish about sex and life: 'How can I rest? / How can I be content / when there is still / that odor in the world?' The committee described her 2006 collection 'Averno' as 'masterly' and 'a visionary interpretation of the myth of Persephone´s descent into hell in the captivity of Hades, the god of death.'

Glück is the recipient of many awards, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in Poetry and the National Humanities Medal. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for 'The Wild Iris' and the National Book Award for 'Faithful and Virtuous Night' in 2014. She was U.S. poet laureate from 2003 to 2004.

Nobel laureates receive a 10 million kronor (more than $1.1 million) prize and are usually feted at a banquet in December, but the event was canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year's winners will be invited to attend in 2021. 

The literature prize comes after several years of controversy and scandal for the organization that awards the accolade. In 2018, the award was postponed after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, which names the Nobel literature committee, and sparked a mass exodus of members. After the academy revamped itself in a bid to regain the trust of the Nobel Foundation, two laureates were named last year, with the 2018 prize going to Poland´s Olga Tokarczuk and the 2019 award to Austria´s Peter Handke. But Handke´s prize caused a storm of protest: A strong supporter of the Serbs during the 1990s Balkan wars, he has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes. Several countries including Albania, Bosnia and Turkey boycotted the Nobel awards ceremony in protest, and a member of the committee that nominates candidates for the literature prize resigned.

The first winner of Nobel Prize in Literature 1901 was -  Sully Prudhomme, a French person.  After an eye disease forced him to discontinue engineering studies, he supported himself for a while as a lawyer. He had already begun writing poetry as a student, and his debut came in 1865. In time he became a respected poet, particularly through induction into the French Academy in 1881. As time passed, his health declined and he lived alone in his home in the southern suburbs of Paris, where he died in 1907. Sully Prudhomme used the money from his Nobel Prize to establish a fund for publishing young French poets.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913 was awarded to Rabindranath Tagore "because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West." (Nobel citation reads so)

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


MLA style: The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913. Nobel Media AB 2020. Fri. 9 Oct 2020. <>

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