Bob Dylan – Nobel Prize Winner?

Bob Dylan was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Oct. 13, 2016, at the age of 75. Dylan became the first musician in the history of the Nobel Prize to win the award, and the decision immediately sparked debate among both the literary and music communities. Dylan received the award for his contributions and efforts in poetry and songwriting, and he joins the company of esteemed writers, like T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The decision to name Dylan as the recipient for the 2016 award was immediately polarizing. Many were especially shocked by the committee’s choice to name a musician for the first time in the award’s long history. Some accomplished writers, including Salman Rushdie and Stephen King, voiced their support for Dylan on Twitter, and they congratulated him on his award. Others, such as novelist Rabih Alameddine, did not take kindly to Dylan winning the award.

Alameddine tweeted to fans that this was not the intent of the prize.

“Bob Dylan winning a Nobel [Prize] in Literature is like Mrs. Fields being awarded 3 Michelin stars,” Alameddine said.

Although not everyone reacted negatively to Dylan’s winning like Alameddine, many were perplexed by the decision based on genre alone. Though it has been argued countless times that Dylan’s song lyrics could stand alone as poetry, Dylan is still a musician and a songwriter, not a poet by trade. It brings into question the factors that inclined the committee to choose a songwriter for this year’s prize, given that they had never done so in over 100 years of the award’s existence. The criteria is not exactly concrete, and it does make you wonder what the committee saw in Dylan over other famed songwriters like John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Jim Morrison.

With the Nobel committee causing so much controversy by naming Dylan the winner of the award, and the art world up in arms debating the situation, it seems important to note what Dylan himself thinks about all of this. His response might even be stranger than the award incident itself: Dylan has said nothing about it. Nothing at all. No public statement, no interview—Dylan didn’t even mention the award at the concert he played on the night he was named the recipient of it. Dylan has been impossible to reach since winning the award, and he has not responded to the Nobel Academy’s phone calls.

Dylan has been called impolite and arrogant by members of the Academy over his silence on the matter. The only acknowledgement of the award from Dylan was a brief mention of it on his website, which has since been removed. His Nobel win does not even currently appear under the news section of his website.

His refusal to acknowledge the award is quite peculiar: in the past, a few have rejected the prize outright including writer Jean-Paul Sartre and Le Duc Tho who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger, but none have simply avoided it in the same way that Dylan has. The Nobel Academy is unsure if he will accept the award at all. There is currently a banquet planned for recipient of the Nobel Prize, yet the Academy has no idea if Dylan will attend. The way things are currently going, his attendance appears doubtful.

Dylan has always been viewed by many as eccentric, and part of him was always a little anti-establishment and suspicious. His unique personality, as well as his voice and lyrics, helped him become one of the most treasured songwriters in American history. In a way, it makes sense that Dylan would be the first musician to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and also to be the first to avoid accepting it as well. In 1991, Kurt Vonnegut was quoted as saying that Dylan was the worst poet alive. It would be interesting to hear what he’d say about all of this today.

Written by Walker Chuppe, Arts & Culture Editor