Singer. Songwriter. Poet. Icon. And now Nobel Laureate. Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan is the first American winner since Toni Morrison in 1993. The news has drawn a mixed reaction, to say the least. While people have praised the Nobel committee for an inspired, out-of-left-field choice, and social media feeds are filling up today with Dylan’s back catalog, some are appalled that the world’s most prestigious literary prize is being given to someone who isn’t a novelist, playwright, or poet (then again, Winston Churchill was none of those things, either.) “I’m a Dylan fan,” tweets novelist Irvine Welsh, “but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.” Hari Kunzuru laments that “this is the lamest Nobel win since they gave it to Obama for not being Bush.” Dylan hasn’t provoked this much outrage since he went electric.
Other writers, musicians, and celebrities, however, are effusive in their congratulations to the 75-year-old. President Obama calls Dylan “one of my favorite poets.” Salman Rushdie (probably wondering when he’s going to win the Nobel) hails Dylan as “the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition,” and noting that “from Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked.” Stephen King welcomes the news as “a great and good thing in a season of sleaze and sadness.” Joyce Carol Oates (herself a perennial favorite for the Prize) tweeted that Dylan’s win is “a very welcome respite/interregnum interrupting a cascade of T***p grotesquerie.” Mind you, her praise also comes with a back-handed compliment, implying that Dylan isn’t the conscience of the nation that he once was: “the Dylan of 1960s would have been scathing of T***p”. Like a coy Victorian novelist balking at a curse word, Oates can’t quite bring herself to type ‘Trump’. Is Dylan a poet? Does he deserve the Nobel? Yes, says Vanity Fair‘s Mike Hogan. No, says Slate‘s Stephen Metcalf.