Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize is a Wake-Up Call for Literature

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Bob Dylan Nobel PrizeI’m for Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. I’m for calling him a “poet.” I’m for calling what he does “literature.” I’ve long been inspired to write the thing we generally refer to as “literature” by listening to the words and music of singer/songwriters. It’s probably the thing that most inspires me, in fact. And while I’ve never been a huge fan of Bob Dylan in particular, there are a host of others I would put in the same category, whom I have listened to and whose words have spoken to me, changed me, influenced me. If this isn’t the definition of “writer,” I’m not sure what is. I put Ani DiFranco in this category. I put Fiona Apple in this category. I put Craig Finn in this category. I put Scott Hutchison in this category. Just because the product of these writers isn’t packaged between the covers of a book doesn’t make their writing any less important to the literary landscape. I have appreciated these writers for the thing Bob Dylan was awarded this week: “for having created new poetic expressions” specifically within the tradition of song.

The decision to give the award to Dylan might be one of the biggest wake-up calls to the industry of literature we’ve seen. It might also be a sign that in another fifty years we will see that the prize for literature might go to writing that was done entirely online–a blog, perhaps, or a Twitter account. These are other forms of writing where I have sometimes seen a depth of vision, innovation, and indeed relevance, that I see less in books.

Anna North writes in the New York Times, “literature needs a Nobel Prize” to help with sales and readership. She says, “awarding the Nobel to a novelist or a poet is a way of affirming that fiction and poetry still matter, that they are crucial human endeavors worthy of international recognition.”

Look, I believe fiction and poetry still matter. But the ways these artforms are packaged and presented to readers will inevitably evolve and change. They already are, and the music of Bob Dylan is only one example of this change and evolution, which has been happening for at least the last fifty years.

I say this as somebody who just had his first book published this year and who still loves books even as I recognize their shrinking relevance to people’s lives: The Nobel Prize does not owe anything to book sales or the book industry. The book industry owes it to itself to figure out the problem of diminished readership and its own existential relevance.

I’ll end this with a poem by our trusty Publisher here at Atticus Review, Dan Cafaro:

 

When You Steal Headlines from a Political Demagogue

And you embody the definition of bohemian trendsetter at age seventy-five
And you’ve defied expectations for more than half-a-century
And you measure every word
“Like it was written in my soul from me to you,”
You deserve a Nobel Prize in Literature.

When you’ve led a life of mythical proportions
And your songwriting soars with the incantation of a seer talking in tongues
And every protest you’ve written sounds like an anthem
And you’ve been blowing our minds ever since your first album’s ode to Woody
“About a funny old world that…looks like it’s dying and it’s hardly been born,”
You deserve a Nobel Prize in Literature.

When critics who prophesize with their pens wage battle to interpret your lyrics
And the masters of war keep pressing on
And you desire one more cup of coffee for the road
And you know you gotta serve somebody
And you’re still searching for Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,
You deserve a Nobel Prize in Literature.

When every hair is numbered like every grain of sand
And you are saved
And you invoke every soul to stay forever young
And you’re lovesick
And you’re cold irons bound,
You deserve a Nobel Prize in Literature.

When you are a self-described “song and dance man”
And things have changed
And all you see are dark eyes
And it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
High waters everywhere,
You deserve a Nobel Prize in Literature.

-Dan Cafaro




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About Author

David Olimpio grew up in Texas, but currently lives and writes in Philadelphia. He believes that we create ourselves through the stories we tell, and that is what he aims to do every day. He is the author of THIS IS NOT A CONFESSION (Awst Press, 2016) and he spends most of free time helping his dogs maintain a poetry photoblog. He has been published in Barrelhouse, The Nervous Breakdown, The Austin Review, Rappahannock Review, and others. You can find more about him at davidolimpio.com, including links to his writing and photography. He Tweets and Instagrams as @notsolinear.

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