Bowdoin English Faculty Members React to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Literature Prize

The award of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature to songwriter and troubadour Bob Dylan has sparked a vigorous online debate over “high art” versus “low art,” and whether song lyrics can now be termed as literature.

Bob Dylan, 1963 Photograph: The US Information Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bob Dylan, 1963
Photograph: The US Information Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s what a couple of Bowdoin’s English faculty had to say on the matter.

Aaron Kitch
The Nobel committee cites Dylan for having created “new poetic expressions within great the American song tradition.”  This is certainly true.  The award also invites us to expand the definition of “literature” in compelling ways.

I also think that Dylan’s focus on subaltern voices of the poor, the immigrant, and on racial minorities aligns him with certain Nobel winners of the past, including Octavio Paz, Toni Morrison, and John Steinbeck.

Marilyn Reizbaum
I think it’s a great choice, especially as it opens the category of literature  to the arena of non traditional forms. I am teaching the Intro to Poetry course this semester, where we learn traditional forms (sonnet, villanelle, etc) before moving into free verse. When I teach the ballad, I use Dylan (among others).

Hilary Thompson
I like to think he would say, “Fifty years of crooning and they put you on the prize list.”

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