Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature (No, This Headline Is Not a Joke)

Folk singer Bob Dylan — yes, really — becomes the first American to win since 1993

It’s been over 20 years since an American won a Nobel Prize in Literature, the last being Toni Morrison in 1993. It has been so long that articles about the perennial snubbing of Americans are written every year. (It doesn’t help that in 2008 the secretary of the prize jury, Horace Engdahl, said the US “is too isolated, too insular” and that “ you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world.”) Well, the Swedes may think American literature is too isolated, but apparently not American music, because they just awarded Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Yes, really.

Bob Dylan, who was awarded for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” is the first musician and lyricist to ever win the Nobel Prize. And his win has left people scratching heads around the world. The Nobel Prize is normally one of the few opportunities for literary books to be the focus of media discussion and attention. It is also a rare opportunity to boost the sales of overlooked authors (especially in America where readers rarely buy translated literature). Instead, we’ll be talking about a popular musician who — as great as he is — has been discussed to death for the last fifty years.

Most of us assumed that if another American were to win, it would be Don DeLillo, Marilynne Robinson, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, or poor old Philip Roth (who famously used to go sit in his agent’s office every year waiting for the Nobel call). Or perhaps a dark horse candidate like Lydia Davis, Claudia Rankine, or any other number of amazing writers in America’s very deep bench.

But the Swedish Academy has been famously hard to predict in the last few decades, giving the award to several long-shot candidates or even somewhat obscure writers in recent years. Last year’s winner, Svetlana Alexievich, was the first non-fiction writer to win in a long time. And perhaps opening the door to lyricists and famous musicians is what the Nobel needs to do to stay relevant.

Or perhaps the Nobel committee looked at how stupidly insane 2016 has been and thought, “We have to do our part!”


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