What Does Bob Dylan’s Nobel Peace Prize Mean for Other Songwriters?

brown and black cut away acoustic guitar
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Since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature last week, there’s been a debate among literary artists whether songwriters should be considered for such a high honor. After all, critics say, the prize is for the best works of literature, not songwriting.

Jodi Picoult, author of several novels including My Sister’s Keeper, tweeted “I’m happy for Bob Dylan, but #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinaGrammy?” Critics argue that giving the award to a songwriter weakens the meaningfulness of the award, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, other best-selling authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King praised the move.

That begs the question: can song lyrics be considered poetry or literature in the same vein as, say, T.S. Eliot? Yes, when those lyrics can stand alone without music, say supporters.

Clearly, Dylan’s body of work falls into that category, like this section from Mr. Tambourine Man. (“Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind/Down the foggy ruins of time/Far past the frozen leaves/The haunted frightened trees/Out to the windy bench/Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow). Certainly, Dylan’s lyrics in protest songs like “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” have struck a chord with the American public.

By naming Bob Dylan the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, does that open the door for other songwriters to be considered for this honor? If Dylan can receive the Nobel Peace Prize, why not Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie or Joan Baez?

Perhaps it is time for the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize every year, to begin awarding a prize for the arts, to honor the best works in theater, dance, art and music. What a radical idea, almost as radical as Bob Dylan himself.

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