Home Commentary State of Mind: Louise Glück (1943–2023): Food and Friendship: A Remembrance

State of Mind: Louise Glück (1943–2023): Food and Friendship: A Remembrance

Keith Monley and Louise Glück during dinner at Monley’s house in South Hero on Aug. 19, 2023. Also at the table but not shown are Monley’s and Glück’s son, Noah Dranow, twin granddaughters, Emmy and Lizzy, their mother Priscilla, and Monley’s spouse Elizabeth. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Inness-Brown Monley.
We never talked about words, Louise and I. By ‘words’ I mean literature. That may seem strange given that I have spent nearly 40 years as an editor and writer, and folks who know me are well aware of my annoying habit of insisting on the Oxford comma or pointing out that ‘data’ is a plural noun and takes an ‘are.’ 

And Louise, . . . well, is there anything in the literary world that Louise did not accomplish? Louise was the Poet Laureate of Vermont from 1994 to 1998, then the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003 to 2004. In her career she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize (in 1993), a National Humanities Medal, a National Book Award, a National Book Critics Award, a Bollingen Prize, and, in 2020, a Nobel Prize in Literature. Few other American writers can claim as much.

Yet Louise and I never discussed words. That was not the focus of our friendship. It was food that brought us together. That also seems strange, given that Louise had worked through anorexia nervosa in her teens and early twenties.

It was many years ago when she first appeared at our home, then in Adamant. She was brought there by a mutual friend, Keith Monley, who is the biological father of Louise’s only child, Noah. Keith and Louise had remained together for the first two years or so of Noah’s life and had, after splitting up and not speaking to each other for 20 years, become good friends over the past three decades. 

Keith always enjoyed being at our table, where he had dined many times, and he wanted Louise to meet us. They only stopped in for a few minutes. I do not remember what I was doing in the kitchen, but before she left, Louise declared, “I want to cook with you!”

I was deeply flattered, partly because of her literary reputation of course, but also because she was associated with the New England Culinary Institute through her marriage to John Dranow and her friendship with Ellen Bryant Voigt. Dranow and Ellen’s husband, Fran Voigt, had started NECI in 1980, and Louise and Ellen (who became Vermont’s Poet Laureate after Louise) served on NECI’s board of directors. Louise, Ellen, and John also had taught in the creative writing programs at Goddard College. It was teaching at Goddard that had brought Louise to Vermont in 1971. Louise and Dranow divorced in 1996.

The New England Culinary Institute, through the influence of its many ventures over the years, changed the way folks in Montpelier ate: La Brioche, Elm Street Café, the Main Street Grill and Bar — later called NECI on Main — and the Chef’s Table, plus the cafeterias at Vermont College, National Life Insurance, and if, I remember correctly, the Vermont Statehouse. And then there were the many talented and creative chefs NECI turned loose into the culinary world, including Food TV celebrity Alton Brown. In my mind Louise had a hand in all that, although in reality she probably had less influence than I imagine. But to me, an enthusiastic amateur cook, Louise saying “I want to cook with you” was as close to professional culinary validation as I was likely to get.

So we tried over the years to arrange such a mutual cooking event, but it was difficult to find an agreeable date. Louise’s career was in full swing and she was constantly pulled to other parts of the country to teach — Columbia, Williams College, Yale, Stanford — or by family, Noah becoming a sommelier in the San Francisco area, and, recently, along with his significant other, Priscilla, presenting Louise with delightful twin granddaughters Emily and Elizabeth. 

It wasn’t until the Nobel Prize that she decided to make changes. She had lived in an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for many years (entertaining our son there at least once on his way to and return from Europe), but in the end, she decided that Montpelier was where she wanted to be. In 2021 she bought a small house on Clarendon Avenue.

That at least afforded us opportunities to have her to our home, now in Berlin, where I could cook for her, and she dined with us on a number of occasions. Grilled lemon/pepper chicken seemed to be a favorite. And just a few months ago, when her renovations were complete, she had us to dinner in her new kitchen and dining room at her house on Clarendon.

Friendships develop in different ways. Sometimes they arrive almost fully formed. But more often they emerge gradually, much like a sculpture, with features appearing from a marble block — an eyebrow here, a shoulder there, a gracefully draped hand — as the stone is slowly chiseled away. That is how I remember my friendship with Louise developing — in increments as new and sometimes amusing details were revealed (who could have guessed she liked to eat her shrimp with the shells on?).

Louise Elizabeth Glück died on Friday, October 13, 2023. She was 80, but in my world only half emerged from that marble block of friendship. We never got the opportunity to cook together.