How Does a Musician Earn the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Probably no one was more surprised than Bob Dylan when it was announced that the prestigious Nobel Committee had awarded him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Previous winners have included such prolific authors as Toni Morrison, William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But never a songwriter.
Bob Dylan, 75, is probably the most influential rock musician of all time, and certainly the most famous Jewish one at that. Best remembered for his iconic “Blowin’ in the Wind” which became the national anthem of the American civil rights movement in the late 60s, he is the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman, in 1941 in a small Jewish community in Duluth, Minnesota. His grandparents on both sides fled the persecutions and pogroms of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Zimmerman, aka Dylan, began playing gigs in 1959 in coffee shops and busker fairs. But he hit his prime during the 1960s when his profound lyrics matched perfectly a restless, counter-culture that was rebelling against the establishment.
Sara Danius, permanent Secretary of the Nobel Prize committee explained how they came to award the honor for literature to a musician. She cited Homer and Sappho, saying that even though their works were read, their texts were works of poetry that should have been listened to as music. She says the same is true of Bob Dylan, whose lyrics are as enduring as Homer and Sappho, and should be read as one reads poetry.
“Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take til he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin in the wind.”