The 2016 Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded to US singer Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
The unexpected decision was announced earlier today, marking the first time an American won the prize since Tom Morrison’s nomination in 1993. The artist is famous for songs such as Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’ and the committee praised Dylan’s creative flair. Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius said he was chosen because he was “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition” — which is appropriate considering the artist took his stage name from the poet Dylan Thomas.
“For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she told reporters in Stockholm.
Dylan has long been considered a potential prize recipient, yet few expected the academy to grant the award to the folk rock music genre. Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion has also praised Dylan’s lyrics, and considers that his songs “work as poems”.
“They have often extremely skilful rhyming aspects to them,” he told the BBC. “They’re often the best words in the best order.”
Danius hopes the Academy will not be criticized for its choice, comparing the artist to Homer and Sappho.
“The times they are a’changing, perhaps,” she said.
“Of course he [deserves] it – he’s just got it,” she added. “He’s a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. And he is a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler. He embodies the tradition and for 54 years now he has been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”
She said that while the choice might seem surprising, “if you look far back, … you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it. Same thing with Bob Dylan – he can be read and should be read. And he is a great poet in the grand English tradition.”
The committee said that Dylan’s themes of the “social conditions of man, religion, politics and love” fall into territory usually explored by literature. They also said his lyrics have “continuously been published in new editions”, and “besides his large production of albums, Dylan has published experimental work like Tarantula (1971) and the collection Writings and Drawings (1973)” and “the autobiography Chronicles (2004), which depicts memories from the early years in New York and which provides glimpses of his life at the center of popular culture”.
The artist hasn’t yet been informed of the award as he’s performing in Las Vegas.
All in all, the choice, while surprising, establishes Dylan as not only a musician — but a literary force of his own.