Friday, November 27, 2020
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Bob Dylan, American songwriter, wins Nobel Prize


The singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” in the words of the Swedish Academy, the New York Times reports.

The first American to win the prize in literature since novelist Toni Morrison won it in 1993, Mr Dylan is now 75. He has been mentioned in the past as having a slim chance at the prize, but his work doesn’t really fit the mold of any of the traditional literary canons—novels, poetry, short stories, plays—that the Nobel Prize typically recognizes.

From his lyrics for the song “Quinn the Eskimo”:

Everybody’s building the big ships and boats.
Some are building monuments, others jotting down notes.
Everybody’s in despair, every girl and boy,
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna jump for joy.
Oh come all without, come all within,
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.
Come all without, come all within,
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.

The above song didn’t win any award, but Mr Dylan has amassed quite a shelf of recognition, including more than 40 Grammy nominations and 12 Grammy Awards. The latest accolade brought a tweet from President Barack Obama:

There were a lot of other firsts here as well, including the first:

  • Person to win a Nobel Prize and play a gig in Las Vegas on the same day
  • Songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge Dylan fan. I love how he produces a double-entendre about a rolling stone, making us wonder if he meant stoning a person as in Old Testament times, smoking weed, or (probably) both. But still, playwrights can’t win Grammy Awards. Does this move, while elevating song lyrics to their rightful place, cheapen the strength of a Grammy?

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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