While the majority of music critics would agree that musical icon Bob Dylan is among the most talented songwriters in music, his numerous nominations for the Nobel Prize in literature have raised the question: should song lyrics qualify for such an award. Dylan, famous for such “musical poetry” as “Blowing in the Wind,” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” was first nominated for literatureʼs most prestigious award in 1996, by Gordon Ball, an author and literature professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. The award that year went to Wislawa Szymborska of Poland, but Ball nominated Dylan for the award every year thereafter. “Poetry and music are linked,” Ball told CBS News. “And Dylan has helped strengthen that relationship, like the troubadours of old.” Ball mentioned he first nominated Dylan after writer Allen Ginsberg urged him to. Ginsberg was a beat poet whose literary circle included Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. “Dylan is a major American bard and minstrel of the 20th century who deserves the award for his mighty and universal powers,” wrote Ginsberg in his 2004 nomination letter to the Associated Press. Friends and fans are not the only people supporting Dylan in this quest for historic brilliance.
“The Norton Introduction to Literature,” a textbook used in American high schools and universities, also supports the literary value of his lyrics. This text includes the lyrics to Dylanʼs famous song “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Several of Dylanʼs collections of lyrics have also been published as books. When Dylan was emerging into the musical world he was a beat poet and always had a way of using his words in a powerful way. Songs such as “Masters of War” and “Times They Are-A Changing” are examples of his poetic lyrics.
With a Woody Guthrie-like folk style, Dylan burst on the music scene in the ʻ60s and became famous for the protest song. It is some of these protest songs that are the sole reasons he is nominated for the Nobel Prize. The 18 lifetime members of the 218 year-old Swedish Academy give the Nobel Prize out each year. A candidate can be nominated by members of literary institutions or academics, professors, or other distinguished Nobel members.
There are about 350 nominations every year for about 200 candidates.
This number is then narrowed down to five finalists. The winner is announced in October and the rest of the finalistsʼ names are not revealed for 50 years.
Though Dylan receives nominations year after year, some people are skeptical that he will ever win the award because song lyrics are somewhat of a tricky subject.
Supporters believe that good writing is good writing, and skeptics believe that only the best writing is in books. Other people believe is not the words that are written, or the length of the writing, but how the words are used and the force of the poetry.