Bob Dylan Wins Nobel For Literature
In a surprise decision Bob Dylan, American song-writer and pop singer from the 1960s onwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday. He is the first singer-songwriter to win the honour.
75-year-old Dylan, won the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He joins a long line of novelists, poets and playwrights including Octavio Paz, Albert Camus and Ernest Hemingway.
For more than six decades Dylan has impressed his fans with his gravelly voice and poetic lyrics about war, heartbreak, betrayal, death and moral faithlessness in songs that brought beauty to life’s greatest tragedies.
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941, Dylan got his first guitar at the age of 14 and performed in rock’n’roll bands in high school. He adopted the name Dylan, after the poet Dylan Thomas. Drawn to the music of Woody Guthrie, began to perform folk music.
He moved to New York in 1961, and began performing in the clubs and cafes of Greenwich Village. His first album, Bob Dylan, was released in 1962, and he followed it up with a host of albums now regarded as masterpieces, including Blonde on Blonde in 1966, and Blood on the Tracks in 1975.
He is regarded as one of the most influential figures in contemporary pop culture.
After the announcement, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said it had “not been a difficult decision” and she hoped the academy would not be criticised for its choice.
“We hoped the news would be received with joy, but you never know,” she said, comparing the songs of the American songwriter to the works of Homer and Sappho.
“We’re really giving it to Bob Dylan as a great poet – that’s the reason we awarded him the prize. He’s a great poet in the great English tradition, stretching from Milton and Blake onwards. And he’s a very interesting traditionalist, in a highly original way. Not just the written tradition, but also the oral one; not just high literature, but also low literature.”
“I came to realise that we still read Homer and Sappho from ancient Greece, and they were writing 2,500 years ago,” she said. “They were meant to be performed, often together with instruments, but they have survived, and survived incredibly well, on the book page. We enjoy [their] poetry, and I think Bob Dylan deserves to be read as a poet.”
The author Salman Rushdie told the Guardian he was delighted with Dylan’s win and said his lyrics had been “an inspiration to me all my life ever since I first heard a Dylan album at school”.
Prof Seamus Perry, chair of the English faculty at Oxford University, compared Dylan’s talent to that of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, calling the songwriter “representative and yet wholly individual, humane, angry, funny and tender by turn; really, wholly himself, one of the greats”.
The former poet laureate Andrew Motion said the prize was “a wonderful acknowledgement of Dylan’s genius. For 50 and some years he has bent, coaxed, teased and persuaded words into lyric and narrative shapes that are at once extraordinary and inevitable.”
Author Joyce Carol Oates said there should be no question about Dylan’s work being considered literature, praising the academy’s “inspired and original choice”.
“His haunting music and lyrics have always seemed, in the deepest sense, literary,” she said.