It’s been announced today that Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 – marking the first time the prize has gone to a recipient who is primarily a musician.
The Swedish Academy in awarding the prized cited that Dylan had “created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
Dylan is the first American to be awarded the prize since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993. There will undoubtedly be many who view this as a controversial choice; whilst Dylan’s name has been mentioned in relation to the Nobel before, his work does fall outside of the traditional literary forms, novels, poetry and short stories which the prize normally celebrates.
In responding to the question of whether Dylan deserved the prize Sara Danius, the Permanent Secretary for the Swedish Academy, had this to say “He is a great poet. He is a great poet in the English speaking tradition.”
In response to the assertion that awarding Dylan the prize was breaking new ground, and that his work did not fall into the traditional realms of novel and poetry, Danius argued that Dylan’s work could be placed within the broader context of the Western poetic tradition. Noting that Homer and Sappho both wrote poetic texts that were written to be performed and heard, but that we still read and enjoy their work today and argued that the same is true of Dylan.
In her remarks Danius also highlighted Dylan’s penchant for reinvention, and that for fifty-four years he’s been constantly reinventing himself and crafting himself a new identity.
Danius even offered up a few listening suggestions, arguing that the best point of entry into Dylan’s sizeable back catalogue is 1966’s Blonde on Blonde.
"He can be read and should be read, and is a great poet in the English tradition" https://t.co/g7CnFBlkNB
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 13, 2016
Before the conferral of the award there was a great deal of speculation, with some familiar and not so familiar names thrown around by bookmakers and those within the literary community. Those thought to be in contention were American novelist Don DeLillo, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Syrian poet Adonis.
To risk a moment of hyperbole this award can be seen as a milestone moment and to many respects marks the legitimisation of popular music as a form of literature, as poetry, as something that can be listened to, read and ultimately something worthy of serious consideration and discussion. After all a lot can be said in a three minute record.