Did Bob Dylan deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Illustration by Zoe Ryan

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. “Wait, literature?” I hear you say. That’s right. The Swedish Academy has awarded him “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan is undoubtedly one of the most iconic men in history. The singer-songwriter has changed the face of music completely. He created songs that not only appeal to the ear, but to the heart. His lyrics have depth and meaning, something most artists of his time failed to achieve by themselves.

I myself admire Dylan and his work. “Not Dark Yet”, “Don’t Think Twice It’s All right” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” are some of my all time favourite songs.

However, the announcement that he is the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has sparked serious debate. The big question being, does he deserve it?

A vast amount of the literary community will say he does not. Some insist that he is a songwriter, not a poet. This is, in all honestly, a valid argument.

Bob Dylan writes songs, not poetry. His words need music to come to life. Poetry comes to life all by itself. When you hear him sing, his words are captivating. When you read them on paper, they are flat and lack the rhythm of poetry. Bob Dylan writes words for the stage, not for the page.

People have not been afraid to voice their views about the decision.

Writer Jason Pinter tweeted: “If Bob Dylan can win the Nobel Prize for literature then I think Stephen King should get elected to the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.”

The Irish Times published an article of quotes from a variety of different literati, those of whom had a variety of different opinions.

Irish poet John Montague had his reservations with the decision, but concluded: “Perhaps only Shakespeare can perfectly blend poetry and song, and it is a little late to give him the Nobel Prize.  However if anyone comes close, it must be Bob Dylan, who has touched what we like to call the zeitgeist with more surety than any other song writer in living memory, and whose lyrics are often startlingly beautiful.”

Many are thrilled with the committee’s decision. Bob Dylan’s lyrics have inspired people for decades and will continue to do so.

“I think his work is a good example of the text being more important than the form; the form itself doesn’t matter, all that matters is the talent,” said Kevin Barry.

Dylan himself has always avoided the question of whether he is a singer or a poet. He refers to himself as a “song and dance man.” No-one knows what he has to say about winning the award. Why? In true Dylan style, he has not responded to any of the Nobel committee’s attempts to contact him.

Others are disappointed with the decision simply because it leaves other writers out in the cold. There are many under recognised writers out there who deserve the award. Writers like Warsan Shire and Rupi Kaur. Or what about Don DeLillo? Dylan has already received a huge amount of recognition for his work, and he certainly does not need the money that comes with the award. There are writers out there who could have really benefited from the prize.

Many are worried that this new view of literature will ruin the reputation of the award. That maybe in 2030, the Prize will be awarded to Rihanna for her already evident outstanding way with words.

“Work, work, work, work, work, work.”

In all seriousness, you simply cannot deny that Bob Dylan is a lyrical genius. He deserved the lifetime achievement award. He belongs in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. He is unequivocally a sensational musician, songwriter and a hugely influential public figure. But is he a poet? Is he up there with Yeats and Shakespeare? I’m not convinced.

Yet, literature is an art form that cannot be defined as one thing. It is broad, complex, meaningful and beautiful, just like Dylan’s work. Maybe this is a good thing for the literary world.

“People who only experience poetry on the page might dissent, but this Nobel award is a way of bringing it all back home, of both reminding us of poetry’s roots and moving it forward through changing times – and for that, we should all be pleased,” said Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.

So did Bob Dylan deserve the Nobel Prize for literature? I’ll leave that up to your own personal opinion. The fact of the matter is, he did win it. A singer-songwriter won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I guess you could say; Times they are a-changin’.

Emer Handly



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