Amit Roy, TT, London, Oct. 13: The Nobel Prize seems to be a-changin’ with the 2016 accolade for literature going to Bob Dylan, considered one of the greatest lyricists of modern times.
Dylan, 75, defined the US civil rights and anti-war movement of the 1960s with such memorable hits such as Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin’. Since the late 1980s, he has toured persistently, an undertaking he has dubbed the Never-Ending Tour.
The announcement of the $928,000 Nobel Prize was met with gasps in Stockholm’s stately Royal Academy hall, followed by some laughter.
Sara Danius, the permanent secretary at the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, defended the surprise choice by saying: “He is 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’s been at it and re-inventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”
Asked if the decision to award the prize to a musician signalled a broadening in the definition of literature, Danius joked by referencing a Dylan song: “The times they are a changing, perhaps.”
Swedish Academy member Per Wastberg said: “He is probably the greatest living poet.”
Asked if he thought Dylan’s Nobel lecture, traditionally given by the laureate in Stockholm later in the year, would be a concert, Wastberg replied: “Let’s hope so.”
Over the years, not everyone has agreed that Dylan was a poet of the first order. US novelist Norman Mailer had countered: “If Dylan’s a poet, I’m a basketball player.”
The Literature Nobel was awarded to Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
The announcement triggered a debate across the literary world, with an immediate challenge to the notion that Dylan was the first songwriter to win the Literature Nobel. That distinction belonged to Rabindranath Tagore, it was claimed, though the Nobel Prize in Literature 1913 was awarded to Tagore the poet and not Tagore the songwriter “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse….”
Gitanjali, the collection of poems for which he won the Nobel, though was also called “Song Offerings”. It was pointed out by some that Dylan was the first singer-songwriter to win the Literature Nobel but some insisted Tagore could sing, too.
An Indian Nobel laureate of more recent times, Amartya Sen (economics, 1998), had this to say to The Telegraph: “It is a great choice! Bob Dylan has done so much to inspire people with his insightful words and to bring out the huge power of poetry.”
Another Indian-origin Nobel laureate (chemistry, 2009), Prof. Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, had some reservations: “Bob Dylan is a great songwriter, but famous musicians like him get lots of recognition in other ways, so this was a wasted opportunity to recognise a deserving writer.”
Additional reporting by Reuters and NYTNS