Since 1895, the Nobel Prize has been awarding individuals around the world for their contribution to science, culture and economics, becoming one of the most coveted and respected prizes to receive. In the past, prizes have gone to Red Cross founder Jean Henri Dunant, Marie Curie for her work on radioactivity and Jean-Paul Sartre for his literary work (who politely declined the award, refusing “to allow himself to be transformed into an institution”).
It may come as a slight surprise then, that Bob Dylan has received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Announced on 13 October 2016, the Swedish Academy said the American singer and songwriter has been awarded the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan is the first songwriter to win the prize, falling out of the usual prerequisites of novel writer or traditional poet.
Unconventional, yes, but not undeserved. The 75-year-old musician began his career in the early 1960s, influenced by folk music and authors of the Beat Generation. His songs have been so much more than simply something to hum along to; they’ve been a commentary on modern society, politics, religion, race and sociology. Stripped back to their bare bones, Dylan aficionados will argue they’re passionate poems that just so happen to be backed by his guitar – telling a story in such a powerful way that so few songwriters have been unable to achieve.
From his 1976 song Desire – an angry protest about the wrongful imprisonment of boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter – to the oft-cited 1966 Visions of Johanna highly regarded for its allusiveness and subtle use of language that’s so open to interpretation, Bob Dylan’s impact on popular culture and modern song writing is undeniable – and there’s no doubt that it will continue to be so.