It came as a shock to many, even to the artist himself, when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on this day in 2016.
“For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” Dylan became the first songwriter to win the award, as well as the first American winner since novelist Toni Morrison accepted the prize in 1993.
At first, the folk torchbearer did not accept the prestigious accolade, refusing to attend the ceremony and collect the prize in Stockholm, Sweden due to prior commitments. At the December ceremony that year, a speech was given on his behalf instead. The speech reportedly stated the artist was “truly beyond words” following the news of his winning and he thought the odds were as likely as him “standing on the moon.”
It wasn’t until March of the following year that the musician met with the Swedish Academy in a “small and intimate” setting to accept the award. “No media will be present; only Bob Dylan and members of the Academy will attend, all according to Dylan’s wishes,” explained the Academy’s secretary, Professor Sara Danius.
When many criticized the artist’s Nobel victory—arguing that lyrics are not literature—it was Danius who was one of Dylan’s biggest champions. She stated that those scrutinizing why the musician was awarded the prize, should start by examining his 1966 masterpiece, Blonde on Blonde. “It’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming, putting together refrains, and his pictorial way of thinking,” she explained.
Dylan also waited until the last minute to deliver the mandatory Nobel lecture. On a June 10 deadline, the artist sent in a taped version of his speech on June 4, 2017, so as to not forfeit the prize money.
Visit his lecture, below, in which he touches on his songs in relation to literature.
(Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns via Getty Images)