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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Anne Carson

Princess of Asturias Award for Literature 2020

Anne Carson (Toronto, Canada, 21st June 1950) is a professor of Classical and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, as well as a renowned poet, essayist and translator. A bilingual edition of Sappho’s poems which she found in a bookstore changed her life forever: “The vision of the two juxtaposed pages, one of them an impenetrable text, but of great visual beauty, captivated me and I bought the book.” She left her studies at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, on two occasions, mostly due to curricular constraints (especially a required course on John Milton). After working for a time in graphic arts, she completed her studies at the University of St Andrews (Scotland), where in 1986 she obtained her PhD with a thesis on Sappho.

A specialist in classical culture and languages and in comparative literature, anthropology, history and advertising, in the opinion of critics Carson is one of the most exquisite and erudite writers of contemporary literature, as well as the author of a hypnotic body of work, in which she fuses styles, references and forms, creating a hybrid of Greco-Latin, medieval and contemporary poetics. For her, translation and creation are synonymous terms. She has stated “If I knew what poetry was, I wouldn’t have to write. It’s something I seek to tempt in the dark” and also that “you do what you have to in order to write about what you want to write”. She has thus created an exquisite world, a collage between poetry, dissertation, essay and drama, with contributions sometimes even from opera. In her first book, Eros the Bittersweet, Carson already meditated on the nature of romantic love and erotic desire using prose fragments that intersect with the verses. Her most admired poets include Homer, Thomas Hardy and the English poetess Stevie Smith, whom she describes as “sublime”, and she considers Virginia Woolf the most important figure in the history of literature. At the age of 42, she published Short Talks (1992), a work that was followed by the works Plainwater (1995); The Glass Essay (1995); her well-known work Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse (1998); Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Ceos with Paul Celan (1999); Men in the Off Hours (2000), a collection of epitaphs, love poems, verse essays and drafts of scripts; The Beauty of the Husband (2001); If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (2002); Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (2005); Nox (2010); Antigonick (2012); Red Doc> [sic] (2013) and Float (2016).

Recipient of the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry (USA, 1996), the Pushcart Prize for Poetry (USA, 1997), the T. S. Eliot Prize (UK, 2001), the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation (USA, 2010) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (Canada, 2014), Anne Carson was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Toronto and has been awarded both Guggenheim (1998) and MacArthur (2000) Fellowships.

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