Reporting Jason DeRusha
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Bob Dylan will wake up Thursday morning either in the company of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis –- or denied again for his chance at the Nobel Prize for Literature. So how do you get a Nobel prize, anyway?
Dylan’s fate over the past couple years has been in the hands of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden. There are 18 members of the academy, according to Nobelprize.org.
The Nobel Committee for Literature evaluates all the nominations, and then makes recommendations to the Swedish Academy. The committee has four to five members, selected by the academy.
The Royal Swedish Academy decides who earns the Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry and Economic Sciences, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute selects the Medicine prize, the Swedish Academy does Literature and the Norwegian Nobel Committee — elected by the Norwegian Parliament — selects the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thousands are qualified to submit nominations for the Peace Prize, including former winners, heads of state or members of governments, along with members of the Norwegian committee. In Literature, there are 600 to 700 academics and former winners who are allowed to submit nominations.
The prizes were started by Alfred Nobel and his will in 1897. Nobel patented nitroglycerin and dynamite, and it made him very wealthy.
When he died, he left the equivalent of $245 million in today’s U.S. dollars, to pay for prizes to honor those who have “benefited mankind.” The first awards were given out in 1901.
So, does songwriting count as literature?
“Well as far as the Nobel folks are concerned, it doesn’t. It hasn’t,” said Alex Lubet, a professor of Music at the University of Minnesota, who’s currently writing a book about Bob Dylan, and has taught a Dylan class.
However, for years, many academics have pushed for Dylan to win, arguing that his lyrics stand up as literature, not all that different from poetry.
“He took some of the aesthetics from French poets, then beat poets from early 60s, and turned them to the form of popular songs,” said Lubet.
He pointed to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” as particularly poetic works.
“One of the things Dylan has done is to have transformed the language,” he explained, noting that Hattie Carroll “plays with rhyme and meter and poetic form really brilliantly.”