Sunday 26 March 2017

A hard rain falls on Bob Dylan, the Nobel winner

Literature honour for iconic singer sparks storm of protest from authors

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first songwriter to receive the award
Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first songwriter to receive the award

Hannah Furness in London

Bob Dylan, the musician, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first songwriter to receive the award - setting off a storm of controversy from authors around the world.

Dylan, whose hits include 'Blowin' in the Wind', 'The Times They Are A-Changing' and 'Mr Tambourine Man', was awarded the prize after the Nobel academy claimed he "created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".

Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius speaks to the media after announcing that Bob Dylan is awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer/via REUTERS
Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius speaks to the media after announcing that Bob Dylan is awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer/via REUTERS

The choice, arguably the most controversial in recent Nobel history, provoked reactions from authors and literary commenters around the globe, with one proclaiming it an "ill-conceived nostalgia award". Another said Dylan's win was merely a "gimmick", and a third warned it insulted "10,000 fine writers" who could have won the literary award in his place.

Dylan, who was due to perform in Las Vegas last night, did not comment on the $928,000 award last night, after joining the likes of Harold Pinter, Seamus Heaney, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill on the list of winners.

Sara Danius (inset), the Nobel academy's permanent secretary, said she "hoped" the decision would not be heavily criticised, adding: "If you look back, far back, 2,500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to. They were meant to be performed, often together with instruments, and it's the same way with Bob Dylan."

Irvine Welsh, the novelist best-known for 'Trainspotting', said he was a Dylan fan but considered the decision an "ill-conceived nostalgia award" bestowed by "senile, gibbering hippies".

Joanne Harris, the writer of 'Chocolat', asked: "Is this the first time that a back catalogue of song lyrics has been judged eligible for a literary prize? Or is it just that the Nobel has run out of old white men to award their literature prizes to?

"In that case, I'm looking forward to my Grammy. Anytime now."

Hari Kunzru, named on the prestigious Granta list, lamented the missed opportunity to showcase works by lesser-known international writers.

Fiammetta Rocco, who runs the Man Booker International prize, said: "It's a gimmick. With all the extraordinary fiction that is being written all over the world, by writers whose lives are in danger and who could to some degree be protected by a Nobel Prize, why do this? Bob Dylan doesn't need it. He is an old, white man, who is rich, famous and physically safe."

Christopher MacLehose, the publisher, said: "The choice is absurd. It insults the work of 10,000 fine writers."

But numerous award-winning writers also flocked to share their enthusiasm, with Ian McEwan proclaiming himself "delighted", and Salman Rushdie saying it was a "great choice" with Dylan the "brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition".

Barack Obama, the US president, had nothing but praise, saying: "Congratulations to one of my favorite poets, Bob Dylan, on a well deserved Nobel."

Professor Seamus Perry, head of the English Faculty at Oxford University, said: "Dylan winning the Nobel was always the thing that you thought should happen in a reasonable world but still seemed quite unimaginable in this one.

"He is, more than any other, the poet of our times, as Tennyson was of his, representative and yet wholly individual, humane, angry, funny, and tender by turn; really, wholly himself, one of the greats."

Irish Independent

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