Yes, Nobel laureate Louise Glück was a Spartan

Posted on December 07, 2020

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Portrait of Louise Glück used for a poster promoting a reading at the Poetry Center at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

The sad news of Louise Glück’s death last Friday (Oct. 13, 2023) drew many accolades and remembrances from fellow poets, avid readers, and former students from the past decades. We have updated this UNCG Magazine post, originally written in December 2020, reflecting on the time exactly 50 years ago when this uniquely gifted poet got her teaching start at UNC Greensboro. Louise Glück, Nobel-winning poet of terse and candid lyricism, dies at 80.

Louise Glück received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020. This high honor was one in a series of accolades she had received since her time as a visiting lecturer at UNCG, at the start of her career, a half-century earlier.

As this American icon received the Nobel Prize for her unmistakable poetic voice, she joined the likes of past recipients such as Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison, and Ernest Hemingway. Along with this honor, Glück had served as Poet Laureate for the United States in 2003-2004, and had won numerous awards, including a Yale Bollingen Prize and a Pulitzer Prize. 

What sets Louise Glück apart from her fellow recipients – and that brings special pride from Spartans near and far – is that she taught at UNCG as a member of the English Department in 1973, when her career and recognition were just beginning.

It was Glück’s self-proclaimed “first real teaching job.”

As the spring semester was set to begin in 1973, a few years after the publication of “Firstborn” in 1968, Louise Glück arrived at McIver Building – which was located where the new Nursing and Instructional Building now stands – to teach as a visiting poet at UNCG. According to Emeritus Professor Jim Evans, her visit was the result of a friendship with Scott Ball, who was an instructor at the University at the time and had known Glück at Goddard College. According to archival records and the student-run newspaper The Carolinian, she taught a freshman poetry course titled “Approaches to Poetry” and a graduate workshop for MFA students in the Creative Writing Program.

Emeritus Professor Fred Chappell, who himself is a Bollingen Prize recipient, in a phone interview recalled she was an exciting person to have on the faculty.

An alumna also recalls Gluck offering a reading in an Elliot Hall lounge, and her also attending a reading given by poet Stanley Kunitz.

Shortly after her time teaching at UNCG, Glück went on to publish her breakthrough work “The House on Marshland” in 1975, which many critics say distinguished her voice as a poet.

She paid a return visit to the UNCG campus in the spring of 1997 for a poetry reading, hosted by the MFA writing program and The Greensboro Review, in the  Alumni House on College Avenue. Creative Writing faculty Stuart Dischell remembers the visit well. He still has a list of poems that were read that night, handwritten by Glück herself, safely kept in his copy of “Meadowlands.” 

Dischell fondly recalls how, after the reading, which happened on a frigid March night, some of the creative writing students planted irises in the still-frozen ground of the reception host’s home on Rankin Street, in honor of Glück and her 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poems, “The Wild Iris.” 

Postcard sent to Stuart Dischell following Poetry Reading (Stuart Dischell)

In a postcard sent to Dischell shortly after her visit, Glück thanked him for his gracious hosting and kind words of introduction at the poetry reading, and briefly recalled how Greensboro (UNCG) was, as she put it, her “first real teaching job.”

Glück taught undergraduate courses for many years at Yale University, where she had been the Rosenkranz Writer in Residence and an adjunct professor since 2004. She also lectured at Boston University from 2008 to 2011, and was a visiting professor at Stanford University at various times between 2011 and 2018. She was selected to serve as a special consultant to the Library of Congress in 1999.

While there are hardly any reminders of Louise Glück’s time spent on campus all those years ago – a few memories, some archival records, one poster, and a postcard – it is her character and achievements that truly embody the type of people who find their way to UNCG.

From the Archives

By Noel Cox ’20 MA

Image at the top: Portrait of Louise Glück used for a poster promoting a reading at the Poetry Center at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; Circa 1976–77. Courtesy of Brandt Luke Zorn / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

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