The times they are a-changin’, because the highest prize in literature has been awarded to a pop musician. Bob Dylan, one of the world’s most influential singer-songwriters, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is the 108th winner of the prestigious award in its history.
Awarded for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” he is not only the first musician to be recognised, but also the first American to be awarded the accolade since author Toni Morrison in 1993. While Dylan is undoubtably an exquisite lyricist and has been a hugely influential artist for more than five decades, he was an unconventional winner amongst a very established canon of literary writers, which included Haruki Murakami and Joyce Carol Oates.
“He can be read, and should be read, and is a great poet in the English tradition, in the grand English poetic tradition,” explained Professor Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, in an interview after today’s announcement. “I think if you want to start listening, or reading, you may start with Blonde On Blonde, the album from 1966,” Danius added.
Dylan’s music spoke to a generation and impacted the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, and his words still resonate today. Over the years he has won 10 Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. “I remember, you know, in college, listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up, ’cause he captured something about this country that was so vital,” Obama said.
Slate writer Stephen Metcalfe wrote, “Forget music, for a moment. Bob Dylan’s contribution to the world is insuperably large; a solar constant, like warmth and light. You need only know that until John Lennon met Bob Dylan, he didn’t believe a pop song could express more than ‘Love Me Do.’”
Dylan is set to perform alongside rock ‘n’ roll luminaries The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters, and The Who this coming weekend at Desert Trip in Palm Springs, giving fans the rare experience of seeing a Nobel Prize winner play a music festival.
- Story by Ariel Katz