10 Takes on Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan

  • October 19, 2016

Wait. Who just snagged literature’s highest honor?


The selection of legendary folk singer/songwriter Bob Dylan as this year's Nobel Laureate in Literature inspired as many raised eyebrows as it did high-fives. Here, writers and lit lovers weigh in on the unconventional choice.







  1. “Awarding Bob Dylan the prize seems like an attempt at being radical in the safest of all possible ways. While no one can argue his contributions to literature as far as influence and lyricism — or that literature and music are inextricably intertwined — there is no safer vessel for the statement. It does little for books, which is concerning. My immediate thought upon hearing the win was, ‘Why not Patti Smith?’ In all seriousness, why not Patti Smith?” ~ Erika Swyler, author of The Book of Speculation: A Novel

  2. “Bob Dylan’s winning of the Nobel Prize is great news. It opens up possibilities for other, more innovative/less staid forms of literature.” ~ David Bruce Smith, founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

  3. “Here is my entire response, in the form of a literary quotation: ‘He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach — that it makes no sense,’ Philip Roth, American Pastoral.” ~ Paula Whyman, author of You May See a Stranger: Stories

  4. “I can’t decide if this is a bit of a stunt. That said, they’ve made some odd choices in the past. (Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, anyone?) I wonder if it would have gotten the same confused reaction if they’d picked, say, Leonard Cohen. I’ve got my money on Taylor Swift next year.” ~ Michael Causey, past president of Washington Independent Writers

  5. "Awards are dumb. I'd still like to win one, but awards are dumb." ~ E.A. Aymar, author of You’re As Good As Dead

  6. “I got no beef with Bob Dylan. He's written some great songs and ballads and some inscrutable ones. And if those folks want to give him a prize for it, that's just fine by me. The more interesting question is whether songwriting is part of literature. Poetry and plays and novels and even essays can have artistic merit, can move people, and can be noble endeavors. Just the same as librettos and other forms that use words to convey meaning. Some people like to say Dylan is a poet, but it ain't the same thing. Songwriting is an art, too. Just try to write one that your great-grandchildren are likely to sing.” ~ Keith Donohue, author of The Motion of Puppets: A Novel

  7. “I was, like everyone, surprised by the award to Dylan, but unlike a great number, I was cheered. This is an American victory and above all an acknowledgment of our poetry. You have only to read the lyrics to ‘Chimes of Freedom’ to know Dylan's deep poetic gift.” ~ Charles Bane Jr., poet and author of The Ascent of Feminist Poetry

  8. “A single two-year period saw the releases of ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ and ‘Blond on Blond’ — and, across the Atlantic, ‘Rubber Soul,’ ‘Revolver,’ and ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ That moment alone, not to mention 50 other prolific years, makes Dylan an inspired choice.” ~ Charles Caramello, professor of English at the University of Maryland

  9. "My initial reaction to The Bob getting The Nobel was as an author: ‘WHAT?’ Then as a musician: a thoughtful, ‘Huh.’ Then as a songwriter: ‘Hey, songs are poems!’ Then as a culture lover: ‘The body of work over time changed the nature of the art and created a whole pop-music genre where the words were more important than the singing, the melody, or even musicianship.’ Now, I think I'm okay with it.” ~ Garinè Isassi, author of Start with the Backbeat: A Musical Novel

  10. “Emerging out of the Greenwich Village folk scene, Bob Dylan strode into the limelight at the exact right moment in history. Revolution was in the air, indeed — and so was rock music. The sophistication of Dylan's lyrics — lush and lacerating, bristling with cryptic imagery and literary allusion, and delivered in the spiky, weathered cadences of an old-time Dust Bowl preacher — set the bar high for his contemporaries. His example profoundly influenced and inspired that legendary generation of songwriters and musicians who transformed rock from mere pop music into a new art form. Probably thinking of the ancient classical world, Ezra Pound wrote that ‘poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.’ Dylan turned that proposition into a modern cultural reality. Like it or not, the real poetry of our era — the poetry we commit to memory and quote to one another and turn to for sustenance and delight — is largely expressed through song, and it was Dylan who showed us how it could be done.” ~ Tyler C. Gore, writer and senior editor at Literal Latte

What are your thoughts on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize? Share them in the comments section below!

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