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?