Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win creates a new evolution for literature


Graphic by Zainie Qureshi.

On Oct. 13, 2016, it was announced that singer-songwriter Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It was stated in the official Nobel Prize press release that Dylan had won the award “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan, of course, celebrated this achievement as he usually does; by acting as if nothing has happened.

This announcement is surprising to say the least. Past winners have included various writers, from journalists like Alice Munro to novelists like Patrick Modiano and to playwrights like Harold Pinter. But Dylan stands as the only songwriter to receive the award. The shock from the announcement is palpable.

This is obviously a great achievement for Dylan, but it still doesn’t seem right. Dylan doesn’t really fit in with the traditional choices for the award. Songwriting is not a traditional form of literature; it just doesn’t mesh with works like novels and plays. Which begs the question, does Dylan deserve this award?

The answer is an obvious and overwhelming yes. Bob Dylan is an obvious master at his craft, and with such mastery. He brought songs and lyrics to a whole new level of creativity. He allowed songs to become miniscule short stories that can be as deep and complex as a Hemingway story. One great example of this is with the song “Like a Rolling Stone,” which is about a rich socialite and his or her fall from grace.

Another prime example of Dylan’s expert storytelling is with the song “Hurricane.” This song is a biographical tale of the trial of boxer Erin “Hurricane” Carter, in which he calls out the whole debacle for being unfair and racially motivated.

Dylan isn’t just a storyteller, however. The original statement from the press release about his “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” is exactly what Dylan is best at. The most beautiful, mesmerizing, and well written example of this is with the Bob Dylan classic “All Along the Watchtower.” The way the lyrics wade back and forth between the Joker and the Thief is lyrically perfect. The song also is structured in a very cyclical way, with the lyrics seemingly being able to continue endlessly. And of course, you cannot forget the extensive symbolism the song provides.

So Dylan obviously deserves the award. But the most the important thing about his deserving win isn’t the fact that he won. The most important part is the doors that it opens for literature.

When most people think of great literature, they think of novelists and poets writing stories excellent stories or beautiful passages. They don’t, however, think of songwriters. But Dylan’s win not only has opened the door for musicians to get high artistic praise for their literary work, but also more niche and non-traditional writing mediums to get more literary recognition. Dylan has once again opened the floodgates of creativity, all with his beautiful songwriting and his artistic skill.

So here’s to Bob Dylan: a man who just can’t stop evolving his and the other forms art around him.