Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

By Tony Attwood

On 13 October 2016 it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Sara Danils, permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, added that he was “a great sampler … and for 54 years he has been at it, reinventing himself.”

Dylan has of course previously won 11 Grammy Awards, as well as an Oscar for Things Have Changed.  Salman Rushdie said after the award, “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition.  Great choice.”

There are six Nobel Prizes awarded each year, they are for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economics.

These prizes are international awards administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden, and based on the fortune of Alfred Nobel, Swedish inventor and entrepreneur. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Each Prize consists of a medal, a personal diploma, and a cash award.

A person or organization awarded the Nobel Prize is called Nobel Laureate. The word “laureate” refers to being signified by the laurel wreath. In ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honour.

To give a context to this award here are the winners of the award this century of the Nobel Prize for Literature…

2016 Bob Dylan, United States
2015 Svetlana Alexievich, Belarus
2014 Patrick Modiano, France
2013 Alice Munro, Canada
2012 Mo Yan, China
2011 Tomas Tranströmer, Sweden
2010 Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru
2009 Herta Müller, Germany
2008 Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, France
2007 Doris Lessing, Britain
2006 Orhan Pamuk, Turkey
2005 Harold Pinter, Britain
2004 Elfriede Jelinek, Austria
2003 JM Coetzee, South Africa
2002 Imre Kertesz, Hungary
2001 VS Naipaul, Trinidad-born British
2000 Gao Xingjian, Chinese-born French

Bob is the first singer songwriter ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been tipped (in terms of betting odds) for some years but the traditional literary elite have tended to laugh off the suggestion, probably because they think all he ever wrote was Blowing in the Wind.

In the run up to the prize award (which is kept utterly secret until the announcement) he was not listed in the top tips by those who gamble on such things.

Bob Dylan is the 259th American to have won a Nobel, across all disciplines, and the first to win the literature prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. He is the ninth American to gain the literary laurels since the medals were founded in 1901.

Among the most famous people to be awarded the prizes are Martin Luther King Jr (Peace Prize 1964), Albert Einstein (Physics Prize 1921) and Marie Curie (Physics Prize 1903).  Perhaps the most famous writer was Rudyard Kipling in 1907.

The average age of all Literature Laureates between 1901 and 2015 is 65 years.  Bob was thus considerably over the age average.  But not as old as Doris Lessing, who was 88 years old when she was awarded the Prize in 2007.

Other poets to have won the prize include

Rabindranath Tagore won in 1913 “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.

Eugenio Montale won in “for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions”

Vicente Aleixandre won in 1977 “for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man’s condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars”

Odysseus Elytis won in 1979 “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness”.

Jaroslav Seifert won in 1984 “for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man”.

Seamus Heaney won in 1995 “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.

Wislawa Szymborska won in 1996 “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”

Tomas Tranströmer won in 2011 “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”





  1. Huh, nice Award right, still I think the fact that his archive was acquired, digitalized and catalogued at the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma) seems to me far more important. Have seen the archive and all the documents for one Album – amazing. I love to dig deep into the creative proces of art, sometimes as much as I want to experience the piece of art itself.
    One remark though, Dylan is not the first songwriter that wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Poets have been among the winners, like Rabindranath Tagore, who was a songwriter as well and won in 1913 “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”. Sounds familiar?

  2. It is appropriate the Americans title their great musicians “Mister” – he is Mr. Bob Dylan. And now he has a richly deserved Nobel. Congratulations to Mr Dylan! The Greatest Song and Dance man of this age.
    As someone comments elsewhere on your fabulous blog, in 100 years Dylan will be regarded as a great poet – by more than just his true fans. However it turns out we don’t have to wait a century after all!
    Thanks Tony for the love you show to this music master.

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