Bob Dylan, arguably one of the world’s greatest singer-songwriters, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” according to the Swedish Academy.
The news was met with both joy and criticism. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said she hoped the Academy would not be criticized for its choice and said it had “not been a difficult decision”.
She explained the academy’s decision:
“We’re really giving it to Bob Dylan as a great poet – that’s the reason we awarded him the prize. He’s a great poet in the great English tradition, stretching from Milton and Blake onwards. And he’s a very interesting traditionalist, in a highly original way. Not just the written tradition, but also the oral one; not just high literature, but also low literature.”
She went on to say:
“I came to realize that we still read Homer and Sappho from ancient Greece, and they were writing 2,500 years ago,” she said. “They were meant to be performed, often together with instruments, but they have survived, and survived incredibly well, on the book page. We enjoy [their] poetry, and I think Bob Dylan deserves to be read as a poet.”
The winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is chosen by the 18 members of the Swedish Academy, who are looking for “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction,” according to Alfred Nobel’s will.
Dylan is the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Toni Morrison earned the honor in 1993. His award follows comments in 2008 from Horace Engdahl, then secretary of the Nobel Prize jury, that “the US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature … That ignorance is restraining.”
Today, it seems Dylan’s genius has transcended that former view. “For the times they are a-changin’.”