Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for work that the Swedish Academy described as “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

He is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993, and a groundbreaking choice by the Nobel committee to select the first literature laureate whose career has primarily been as a musician.

Although long rumored as a contender for the prize, Dylan was far down the list of predicted winners, which included such renown writers as Haruki Murakami and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

This is the second year in a row that the academy has turned away from fiction writers for the literature prize. And it’s possibly the first year that the prize has gone to someone who is primarily a musician, not a writer.

The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, made the announcement in Stockholm. In a televised interview afterward, Danius said that Dylan “embodies the tradition. And for 54 years, he’s been at it, reinventing himself, creating a new identity.” She suggested that people unfamiliar with his work start with “Blonde on Blonde,” his album from 1966.

“Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear,” she said. “But it’s perfectly fine to read his works as poetry.”

She drew parallels between Dylan’s work and poets as far back as Greek antiquity.

“It’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and his pictorial thinking,” Danius said. “If you look back, far back, you discover Homer and Sappho, and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to. They were meant to be performed. It’s the same way with Bob Dylan. But we still read Homer and Sappho. He can be read and should be read. He is a great poet in the grand English tradition. I know the music, and I’ve started to appreciate him much more now. Today, I’m a lover of Bob Dylan.

Dylan will receive an 18-karat gold medal and a check for about $925,000.

Tributes for Dylan — as well as the Nobel’s unconventional choice — came from across the world and spanned from the worlds of politics to letters.

 “Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice,” said a Twitter message from British novelist Salman Rushdie. Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, called the honor for Dylan a “joy” and recalled “many fond memories from my adolescence are associated with his music.”

Just after 7 a.m., songwriter Rosanne Cash was in her New York home when her husband John ran down the stairs “like an elephant.”

“Dylan won the Nobel Prize,” he shouted.

“No,” said Cash, “that can’t be true.”

Cash, whose legendary late father, Johnny, was a friend and sometime collaborator with Dylan, spent the rest of the morning beaming. She also received a flurry of text messages, everyone from songwriter Marc Cohn to her literary agent.

“The chatter is this pride and that finally he gets recognized in this way that equates songwriting with great literature,” said Cash. “I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, because I also write prose, ‘Oh, you’re also a real writer.’ It’s so offensive. Like songwriting doesn’t require the same discipline. So the fact that he’s recognized lifts all of our boats.”

I said back in the 60’s as a young punk that Bob Dylan was the Poet Laureate of the 60’s.  Finally he was recognized and I have not changed my mind, even though many prolific song writers have come along since then.

I think we can all agree that Dylan can’t sing.  His voice is horrible.  But those words and voice combined make him the Bard.  Was he too stoned to realize what he wrote?  Who knows.  Does it matter?  Who knows.  All I know is that an artist continues to be recognized for his greatness.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan.  I wasn’t wrong about you!

What is your favorite Dylan song, just as an aside?

10 Thoughts to “Bob Dylan wins 2016 Nobel Prize in literature”

  1. NorthofNokesville

    I think this is great, and comes at a time when our national scene is dominated by coarseness, corruption, and bad behavior all around. It’s a reminder that, in some spheres of life, “I suck less” is not the key success metric. I love the choice.

    There’s also been some grumbling that “music isn’t literature.” This reads to me like a prejudice of our hyper-specialized age. Certainly for long stretches of history, literature was transmitted orally, and the ancient pillars of Western civilization (classical and Judeo-Christian thought) would have rejected utterly the idea that literature and song are mutually exclusive. Think of the Greek Chorus, or the Psalms… do they constitute grounds for evicting Sophocles or the Old Testament from literature? Don’t think so.


    1. Cheer North!!!!
      I have read some of the grumbling. Dylan is a poet. If poetry isn’t literature, then I guess I don’t know what is.

      I think he was an excellent choice and I expect he was as surprised as anyone else.

    2. Robin Hood

      We can agree on some things, can’t we?

      I’ve been a Dylan fan for over 50 years and his lyrics are poetry. Poetry began as song lyrics, for that matter.

      I can recall singing “Blowin’ in the Wind” at anti-war demonstrations and humming “Maggie’s Farm” when I joined a union. I got an A on a paper I wrote at the University comparing him to Dante.

      One fun fact: He and Corey Stewart share the same hometown!


      1. NorthofNokesville

        @Robin Hood

        I’m a more recent convert. Part of what I love is his malleability and exploration … you have the 60’s protest/folk song Dylan, the evangelical Dylan, electric, the more recent bemused vibe. That aspect seems quintessentially American, a la Whitman’s phrase, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” And each manifestation is full-bore.

        The Dylan-Dante comparison is fascinating. At first blush it seems like they would be quite opposite, with Dante having a massively systemic worldview and over-arching narrative, while Dylan is more evocative. But I suspect similarities emerge with extended consideration, particularly around use of allegory. Is your paper worth reading? 🙂

        My personal entry point to the folk/protest songs came through Leonard Cohen (The Partisan is a favorite, the French duet is haunting) and less seriously through the Pogues. Both share with Dylan and Dante an overt concern with religion, albeit from very different angles. Cohen draws freely from Judeo-Christian imagery, but wistfully because he’s not a believer. The Pogues are torn, too, seeing oppression in Thousands are Sailing, but borrowing heavily and sympathetically in Lorca’s Novena (plus it’s a novena).

        Suspect we agree on more things than blog comment sections permit.

      2. Robin Hood

        The difference was that Dante was mostly epic and Dylan is lyrical but the similarities were striking in characterization, symbolism and irony. I graduated in 1972 and lost some college notebooks due to turnovers of residences over the years.

        But when “Tangled up in Blue” came out later I was amazed at the verse about his encounter with a woman who shared a book of poems from an Italian poet from the 13th century and how it affected him.


      3. Youngsters! 😉

        As a song writer, I probably enjoy Gordon Lightfoot and Kris Kristopherson just as much as I do Bob Dylan. But Dylan is ours, more so than the other two.

      4. That’s why we have an open thread….so people can explore ideas.

        My first impulse is to tell both of you that you are simply too damn intellectual. Maybe its a difference in majors. I was a psych major with social and classical studies as related fields. The math came much later, after undergrad school. My pride and joy paper was tracing the history of syphilis from the new world to Europe.

        I don’t know who I would have compared Dylan to. I can’t erase what I know now to recapture what I thought back then. You gentlemen will have to understand that it has been MANY years ago.

      5. I wonder if Corey realizes he and Bobby D are from the same home town?

        Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize was the only bright spot in a week of horrible news!

        I am pondering my favorite Dylan song….maybe Positively 4th Street. Maybe. “Blowin’ in the Wind” runs a mighty close second. “Wind” certainly defines the generation.

      6. Robin Hood

        Corey knows. He’s proud of it.


  2. John Wall

    Am I alone here in thinking that he is the worst ‘singer’ that has ever lived. Listen to some of his unplugged stuff, yuck.
    Good writer, no doubt, horrible singer.

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