Nelly Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966 on her seventy-fifth birthday, a coincidence of dates that her father had been fond of noting during Sachs's girlhood in Berlin. In her acceptance speech, Sachs made reference to her father's annual teasing every December 10 and acknowledged that the award was like a dream come true. Nelly Sachs's work was largely unknown outside Germany and Sweden when the prize was announced; she had been writing in relative obscurity for almost two decades. Two literary awards she received in Germany in 1960 and in 1965 had earned her a reputation as "the poet of Jewish fate," a title grounded in her powerful, poetic testimonies to the victims of the Holocaust. Those poems, written and published in the 1940s, reached only a limited audience, and it was not until the 1960s when Germany began the process of confronting its Nazi past that Sachs's writings found a broader readership. Some critics have argued that the sudden recognition of Sachs's qualities as a poet in the 1960s reflected a tendency to appropriate her work as a symbol of Jewish-German reconciliation, while others have focused on the unusual nature of her poetic language and her role in infusing German literature with a new spirit. Sachs herself was wary of categorizations that limited her to a Jewish identity, but she graciously accepted the Nobel awarded "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength"; she shared the award with Shmuel Yosef Agnon, an Israeli author who wrote in Hebrew.
Bower, Kathrin M. "Nelly Sachs (10 December 1891-12 May 1970)."Dictionary of Literary Biography: Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 4: Quasimodo-Yeats. Vol. 332. Farmington Mills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
Copyright © 2007, Thomson Gale. This article first appeared in Dictionary of Literary Biography: Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, Part 4: Quasimodo-Yeats 332 (2007), 82-90.
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