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Does Bob Dylan Deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature?

The biographies of the literary greats tells us many things about these authors and the times in which they wrote.

Dylan Responds

"The news about the Nobel Prize left me speechless. I appreciate the honor so much."

Bob Dylan in Spain

Dylan performing at the Azkema Rock Festival in Vitoria, Spain in 2010

Dylan performing at the Azkema Rock Festival in Vitoria, Spain in 2010

The Award

On October 15, 2016 the Nobel Committee announced that the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature would be awarded to the American troubadour and folksinger, Bob Dylan. Dylan earned this award by developing a strong lyrical content in his music recordings that date back to the early sixties. At first, Bob was not available for comment, but eventually it became known that Mr. Dylan would accept the prize and likely attend the awards ceremony that occurs on December 10th in Sweden.

Some Reactions

"I am ecstatic that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel. A great and good thing in a season of sleaze and sadness." Stephen King

The reaction to the Dylan choice has been swift and varied. Many well-known authors such as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, President Obama, Salman Rushdie and Al Gore responded with praise and admiration.

President Obama responded with these words, "Congratulations to one of my favorite poets, Bob Dylan, on a well-deserved Nobel."

As expected not all reactions have been appreciative. Amy King and Danniel Schoonebeek, two writers active with PEN, asked that Dylan turn down the award like Jean-Paul Sartre did in 1964. Schoonebeck explained it this way, “Everyone already knows his records front to back, he’s already a household name all over the world, does this award do anything to effect any change whatsoever?”

A Book of Lyrics

Does a book of Dylan's complete lyrics validate his receiving the prestigious award?

Does a book of Dylan's complete lyrics validate his receiving the prestigious award?

Robert Allen Zimmerman's Biography

Bob Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941, as Robert Allen Zimmerman. After his father came down with polio at age six, the family moved to Hibbing, Minnesota, located not far from Duluth. After completing high school, Bob attended the University of Minnesota for a year. Then he dropped out, moved to NYC, where he began his music career by performing folk songs in a variety of Manhattan music venues. In March 1962, he recorded and released his first album, simply entitled Bob Dylan.

Despite some opposition from his recording company, Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, in May of 1963. This landmark album, which included such hits as Blowin" In the Wind and A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, launched Dylan's career.

A major turning point in Dylan's life occurred in 1966, when he was involved in a motorcycle accident in Woodstock,NY. This happened right after, he had hooked up with members of The Band and gone electric. Recovery from the accident, took months and included seclusion from the public. This may have been just what the songwriter/performer needed, for after the accident, Dylan continued to produce many wonderful ballads and songs, but at a more reasonable and manageable pace.

As of today. Bob Dylan has recorded over three dozen albums and done countless numbers of live concerts around the world. Even today, at age 75, Dylan still tours.

Why Bob Dylan Won the Nobel Prize

China Responds

Since the announcement of the award came out in late October, response has been wide, varied and mostly positive. News of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, has even drew comments from such far-off places as China. Zhang Yiwu a professor at Peking University had this to say about Bob Dylan and the award.

“This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was a complete surprise, an unexpectedly novel approach – a Black Swan, even........ But it’s a bold move for a prize that has been a staid presence in the literary landscape for so many years. It’s certainly innovative. In the age of the internet, anything’s possible.”

As expected not everybody behind the Great Wall agreed with the choice. One writer, Zhu Yue chimed in with his comment, "Personally I think it should have gone to Murakami."

Homer and the Lyre

Statue of Homer playing the Lyre, Munich, Germany

Statue of Homer playing the Lyre, Munich, Germany

The Homer Defense

Members of the Nobel committee defended their groundbreaking decision by comparing Dylan's lyrics to the collected works of Homer (approx. 700 to 800 B.C.), the blind Greek storyteller, who traveled the countryside, telling tales from the Trojan Wars accompanied by a stringed musical instrument called the lyre.

Sara Danils, permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, backed the choice in this way, "if you look far back, 5000 years, you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it."

Other defenders of the Dylan choice have pointed out that Shakespeare didn't publish his plays or didn't even keep written records. It was only after the great Bard's death that his works were published, and even in this regard Shakespeare's contemporaries had to search far and wide to retrieve the text of all the performances.

Dylan's Lyrical Masterpieces

My Take

My first reaction was one of surprise and disbelief. Since the awards began over a hundred years ago, the literature prize has always been presented to a writer, who has put his (or her) words on paper, so that they can be read and pondered by an audience that values the written word. Even though I greatly admire Mr. Dylan for his great contributions to popular culture, I'm not sure I want to see the literature award given to a folksinger/songwriter.

On second thought, I have grown to be much more appreciative of giving the award to Bob Dylan. The main rational here is that since the Nobel Prize is strictly limited through the will of Alfred Nobel, (awards are given only in literature, chemistry, medicine, physics and peace) flexibility in defining each category is a positive development. Besides, it is highly likely that the words of Dylan will be available in print for many generations to come....and I guess that is what ultimately defines great literature.

Top Ten Dylan Songs

Dylan Will Not Attend the Awards Ceremony

On November 16th, 2016 Bob Dylan announced that he will not attend the awards ceremony, though he stills plan to accept the award and the large monetary sum that goes with the prize. According to the Academy, Bob "wishes he could receive the prize personally, but other commitments make it unfortunately impossible".

Naturally, the prize committee was disappointed that Bob Dylan would not attend the December 10th gala in person, but nonetheless, they were quick to remind the popular singer that he has one obligation to fulfill in regards to accepting the $900,000 award.

'We are looking forward to Bob Dylan's Nobel lecture, which he must hold, according to the requirements, within six months' from December 10.'

I imagine that the Swedish academy are not the only ones eagerly awaiting a Dylan lecture, for the Minnesota native still has quite a few fans and followers around the world......and a Dylan lecture would be, as far as I know, a first of its kind.

Patti Smith To Sing at the Nobel Gala

Patti Smith performing at Cornell University in 1978

Patti Smith performing at Cornell University in 1978

Patti Smith to Perform A Dylan Song at Nobel Gala

In a December 5th article at Rolling Stone online, it was announced that Patti Smith will attend the Nobel Awards ceremony, where she will acknowledge Dylan's award and also perform "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall". Smith had already agreed to perform at the event, even before Bob Dylan had been publicly announced as the Literature recipient. Now, instead of singing one of her own songs, she will render one of Dylan's classic numbers.

Also according to the same article, Bob Dylan will prepare a public lecture that will be delivered at the December 10th event in Stockholm. At this moment it is unclear whether this will fulfill the Nobel committee's requirement that Mr. Dylan deliver a lecture within six months of receiving the award, if he is to receive the $900,000 gift that comes with it.

Dylan Releases Nobel Speech

Yesterday, June 4, 2017, Bob Dylan officially released his official Nobel speech, the one he is required to deliver, if he is to receive his $900,000 award. The short 27 minute spiel, playing with background piano music that sounds like it came from the Holiday Inn was just released online and is available to anyone who cares to listen.

Frankly, it is well worth the time invested, especially for anyone who truly relishes the songs and ballads of the great Minnesota-born bard. In the short 27 minutes that it takes to listen, Bob discusses the important influences that lead to his unique musical style of expression. These include the onstage style of Buddy Holly, the musical recordings of Leadbelly, along with three great pieces of literature, Moby Dick, All Quiet On the Western Front and The Iliad and the Odyssey.

Dylan's Nobel Speech

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