Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature


The times, they are a-changing: for the first time, according to The Wall Street Journal, the Swedish Academy has awarded the Nobel Prize in literature to a musician. The Nobel Prize in literature is the highest honor in literature. It was created to honor great writers. The Swedish Academy awards Nobel Prizes each year for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, activism promoting peace, and economics.

Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter. In the 1960s, Dylan wrote and sang many protest ballads, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” These songs would provide a musical expression of the Sixties counter-culture. Dylan’s music expressed the frustration that many young Americans felt with mainstream culture and the Vietnam War, but also expressed hope for change .

In October 2016, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in literature. Dylan was chosen, in the words of the Swedish Academy, “For having created new poetic expression within the great American song tradition.”  The Swedish Academy also chose Dylan because many of his songs reference literature, and the way they captured both the frustration and the hope of young people in the 1960s.

The Swedish Academy’s choice of giving Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in literature was applauded by Barack Obama. Obama tweeted, “Congratulations to one of my favorite poets, Bob Dylan, on a well-deserved Nobel.” The award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie also congratulated Dylan. However, several literary critics are displeased by the choice. They think that Dylan’s songwriting does not qualify as literature in the same way that a novel or a poem would.  Bob Dylan was also criticized for waiting almost two weeks to acknowledge the prize. His failure to respond promptly was called “impolite and arrogant” by one member of the Swedish Academy.

Dylan’s victory has been interpreted as having redefined literature.  Whether or not you agree with the choice of awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in literature, the choice has set a new precedent in the literary world for honoring songwriting in the same way as forms of writing more traditionally considered literature have been.