Takes on Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature

According to Reuters, when Bob Dylan was announced as the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature last week, audible gasps and laughter could be heard from the audience. There’s been a lot of mixed reaction to the Nobel committee’s choice of Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Let’s take a look at some:

In “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel” (NY Times) Anna North felt that “the Nobel committee is choosing not to award it to a writer, and that is a disappointing choice.” She does not dispute Dylan’s genius or that his lyrics can be analyzed as poetry, but says that “Mr. Dylan’s writing is inseparable from his music.” Moreover, she says “awarding the Nobel to a novelist or a poet is a way of affirming that fiction and poetry still matter….”

In the Washington Post, Gordon Ball says “I nominated Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize, you’re welcome” and lays out his reasons why he thinks the singer/songwriter richly deserves the award. Among them, “Various academic textbooks, including the Norton ‘Introduction to Literature’ (2005) and the ‘Portable Beat Reader’ (1992), have reproduced his lyrics. The enlarged edition of the ‘Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics’ included an entry on the ‘Rock Lyric,’ where specific songs by Dylan are given as examples of the incorporation of ‘elements of modern poetry.’”

On Vulture, Craig Jenkins titled his take “It Doesn’t Matter Whether Bob Dylan Is a Songwriter or a Poet,” but apparently it does to him because he sees it “as a gateway to greater things, to a cleaner reckoning of where the great American songbook fits into the nation’s rich history of literature” and “a tool for breaking out of the binary thinking that considers songwriting a lesser literary form, as mere pop art.”

Perhaps a trip back to the 6th Annual Grammy Awards (5/12/1964) will put all this in perspective. The ceremony honored musical accomplishments in 1963. Peter, Paul & Mary won in two categories for their performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” (Best Folk Recording and Best Performance by a Vocal Group). The song was not nominated for a Song of the Year award (which goes to the songwriter).

Edward Albee won the Grammy in the “Best Documentary, Spoken Word Or Drama Recording (Other Than Comedy)” category for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Bob Dylan sang “The Ballad of Medgar Evans” on the “We Shall Overcome” album (the March on Washington – August 28th, 1963) for which Dr. Martin Luther King was nominated. So the answer to author Jodi Picoult’s tweet “I’m happy for Bob Dylan #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy, is yes, of course. You could have before now. Folks other than singers and musicians have been included in the Grammys for quite some time. It just took the Nobel Prize committee longer. Perhaps they just don’t want to break down their prize money into separate categories.

One thing about this controversy: When Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up in a Jeopardy! clue, everyone is bound to know it, The last Final Jeopardy question that he was in listed some prestigious awards the players didn’t know he got:

12/4/2012 – AMERICAN ICONS: He has a Medal of Freedom, a Pulitzer Citation & membership in the Rock & Roll & Minnesota Music Halls of Fame

See more recent Jeopardy! clues on Bob Dylan and on Nobel Prize Literature winners on the next page.

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13 Responses

  1. Cece says:

    He declined the invitation to accept the prize in Stockholm. I guess he had a good reason.

  2. jacob ska says:

    VJ, thanks for the link. I think that is funny. Dylan probably fainted imo and it took some time for the reality to ring true.

    I didn’t realize Joan was 75. She is ageless.

    • VJ says:

      It was funny to me because when I see a headline like that, I assume they are paraphrasing what was really said for a sensational headline, but in this case, she really said it. ha ha ha

  3. jacob ska says:

    Bob Dylan has finally spoken out about his Nobel Prize and said he was speechless according to the media today. I can imagine he was speechless. Such a deserving award for a talented human being.

  4. Caligari says:

    The lyricist who really deserves the Nobel prize for literature is Stephen Sondheim. That he has not received it yet is just wrong.

  5. jacob ska says:

    VJ, thanks for excellent research. Regarding Bob Dylan winning the Nobel prize I have to go with “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If the Committee felt him to be deserving “so be it.”

    As for the criticisms, I have to go with a Chinese proverb you had on Spoiler Talk not too long ago “Talk don’t cook rice.”

  6. VJ says:

    Thanks Rhonda., I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post. To answer your question about Dylan being compared to Homer and Sappho, I think that’s a bit much.

    I’m not a poetry snob, but I would compare Dylan to Paul Simon myself and the winner would be Simon. Here’s a 2011 article (well before all this happened) that agrees

    • rhonda says:

      As much as I love Dylan, I agree with you about the comparison to the Greek poets, VJ. That was a bit over the top for me, too.

    • Cece says:

      I’ve not paid much attention to either singer (Dylan or Simon), but have to agree with you and the article, VJ. Based on a few songs I know from both, I don’t find any of Dylan’s song lyrics as poetic as Simon’s.

      Oh, and IMO, Dylan has nothing on Cohen. But parroting Jacob, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, (OK, whoever said that).

  7. rhonda says:

    Thanks so much for putting so much work into this. You always go out of your way for us and we are so fortunate to have you! A fun and interesting read.