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October 16, 2016
by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Bob Dylan: The First Musician Winning Nobel Prize in Literature Stirring Controversy And Awe

October 16, 2016 16:44 by Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

For more than five decades, Bob Dylan has been known and globally revered for his prolific work as a   song writer/musician. Dylan is not only famous for the songs he sang but the lyrics he wrote which makes him distinct as an artist.

From half a century ago, Dylan has also written a plethora of songs with socially and politically charged words, stirring controversy. In the 60s, for example, he has written many songs (like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin”) which sparked the civil rights movements and anti-Vietnam war protests (TiffHill, 2016).

This time, Dylan is making the world abuzz again but for a different reason.

His legacy now includes the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first musician to win the award.

Why The Fuss

Dylan’s Nobel win is a big deal.

Not only did he cross the traditional line of what’s long been regarded as a higher form of literature work but he also created a new paradigm shift in the entire field of art and music as a whole.

According to the Swedish Academy, Dylan was awarded for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”(ibid.).

In this regard, Dylan is credited for his ingenious musical talents and perhaps more extensively for his creative words conveying the profound messages of life – the trials of love, loss, and various social issues which can broadly resonate with a lot of people.

Having his artistry recognized in this fashion with the highest prestige, Dylan’s merit and influence as a songwriter have proved him much more than his mere status as an American folk musician.

More Controversy

Nonetheless, the buzz around Bob Dylan’s news is not all positive.

His latest achievement has also been taunted among critics, causing much controversy.

Especially in the literature community, the choice made by the Nobel Committee to award Dylan has not been well received and its legitimacy is being questioned (Sisario and Alter, 2016).

Some writers and publishers have argued that the Academy’s decision was not based on established literary traditions but rather confounded by the populist notion.

Historically speaking, however, Dylan is not the only exception to receive the award as someone outside the literature community for whom the Academy has stretched its parameters for consideration.

In 1953, Winston Churchill was awarded the prize for the literary qualities of his political speeches. More recently, the Academy recognized Belarussian journalist, Svetlana Alexievich, for his journalistic narratives (ibid.).

Dylan’s supporters further argue that as a songwriter, Bob Dylan has always been a poet. It is claimed that his lyrics are not just mere words but more of his poetic expressions of his creativity delivering powerful messages.   

Constructs of Literature Redefined

All the arguments aside, Dylan’s winning the award has definitely helped close the gap between the old definitions of high and low art, merging the unifying language into one solid category of value.  

Regardless of whether Dylan merits the award, there’s no doubt that his body of work has made a lasting, indelible imprint on the world.

Perhaps, music is the universal language transcending the bounds of literature defined by many and Dylan’s greatest contribution is the way he has pioneered and epitomized it.

For this reason alone, Bob Dylan may truly deserve the award after all.  


Sisario, B and Alter A. October 13, 2016. Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize, Redefining Boundaries of Literature. The New York Times. Retrieved from

The TiffHill. October 14, 2016. Daily Kos.Bob Dylan’s Nobel Win Met With Controversy. Daily Kos. Retrieved from


About the Author

Dr. Agnes Oh Dr. Agnes Oh, PsyD, LMFT

Dr. Agnes Oh is dually licensed as a clinical psychologist and a marriage and family therapist in the state of California, fully committed to helping each individual to maximize his/her intrinsic potential to heal, grow, and thrive.

Dr. Agnes Oh has a clinical practice in Glendale, CA

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