I’m going to wrap up this blog now. Thanks very much for everyone who’s read it and commented. It’s hard to know which Dylan song to finish on, so I’m going to choose the coruscating Idiot Wind from Blood on the Tracks, eight minutes of some of the most breathtaking musical vitriol ever recorded.
The New Yorker has just published a great piece in which its writers discuss their favourite Dylan lyrics. Rebecca Mead picks this song. She writes:
I’m glad to say that it’s been a while since I felt a personal identification with Idiot Wind, but the furious castigation and the reeling pain conveyed by that song have spoken for me more times than I care to recall. Critics will argue about Dylan’s place in the canon, or about the rightness of bestowing a prize upon a writer whose celebration doesn’t particularly help the publishing industry. But, for my money, anyone who can summon, as a bitter valediction to a lover, the line “I can’t even touch the books you’ve read,” knows—and captures, and incarnates—the power of literature.
The legendary music journalist Everett True emails to say he has written some thoughts on Dylan’s award. They include:
Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature says everything about the establishment’s understanding of the appeal of popular music – ie it has none.
Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature heightens the gender and race divide between ‘serious’ rock music and ‘disposable’ pop music. (Think Beck winning at the Grammys.)
Bob Dylan winning a Nobel Prize for Literature pays lip service to populism, the same way the establishment’s championing of Bob Dylan from the 1960s onwards has always paid lip service to populism while simultaneously serving to put the rest of us Great Unwashed firmly in our place, a slap across the face.
And here’s a great and somewhat poignant fact from my colleague Bryan Graham.
Another interesting piece on why Dylan deserves the Nobel from Rob Salkowitz in Forbes magazine, who makes the argument that over six decades Dylan has channelled the voices of the marginalised. He writes:
One of the primary grievances of the out-groups, whether they are Brexiters, members of the European right, or Trumpians in the US, is that their voices are not heard and respected among the elite. Their concerns about diminished social and economic status, the failure of their communities and families and the general sense of abandonment are treated as collateral damage by elites, who condescend to them without actually understanding the cause of their pain.
Bob Dylan’s art, at its finest, dignifies those voices. He is not of those communities by origin, but he has embraced them so deeply and consistently through his six-decade career that he speaks on their behalf with clarity, conviction and authenticity. At the same time, he is an advocate for social justice at the most basic, human level, and in his mature work refuses to reduce either side of a discussion to caricature.
Tonight, Dylan plays in Vegas. His peer and fellow Desert Trip/Oldchella performer Paul McCartney is also playing a concert – at Pappy & Harriet’s, a 300-capacity bar in Pioneertown near the Joshua Tree. The box office opens at 6.30pm. Tickets are $50 which seems pretty good value to get up close and personal with a Beatle.
Our correspondent there says it’s “the biggest thing to happen in Pioneertown since Roy Rogers threw the first bowl at the bowling alley.”
Bill Wyman (not the Rolling Stones bassist) has written a fine paean of praise to Dylan’s Nobel prize for Vulture, zeroing in on Chimes of Freedom, which he calls “among the greatest pieces of lyric poetry of our time”. He writes:
Poring over the song, the members of the [Nobel] academy would have found the words “for those compelled to drift, or else be kept from drifting.” It might have occurred to them that that Dylan had precisely limned two of the great tragedies of the 20th century — ethnic cleansing and forced exile, on the one hand, and the gulag on the other — in a single prosaic line.
Or how about this: “For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale”; they might have seen at least a hint of recognition of the fights to come in the realm of interracial marriage and, of course, gay rights.
The news wire service AFP have been taking the temperature of the literary world’s response to Dylan’s Nobel win, and it’s rather chilly.
“Dylan’s name has often been mentioned over the past few years but we always thought it was a joke,” said the French novelist Pierre Assouline, who could not hide his fury at the Nobel committee.
“Their decision is contemptuous of writers,” he told AFP. “I like Dylan but where is the (literary) work? I think the Swedish Academy have made themselves look ridiculous.”
However, Marianne Faithfull weighed in in defence of her old pal.
“I think he’s one of the greatest artists in the world and he’s changed our whole lives with his writing and his poetry.”
And she was scornful of the writers criticising the choice. “I think they’re ridiculous,” she said.
Not only is he the songwriter who redefined the pop song and became the voice of a generation, it appears he also made a sculpture which resides in the Clintons’ back garden.
Springsteen on Dylan
Bruce Springsteen (or the people who run his website anyway) has offered his congratulations to Dylan with an excerpt from the Boss’s recently-released autobiography, Born to Run.
Part of it reads:
He inspired me and gave me hope. He asked the questions everyone else was too frightened to ask, especially to a fifteen-year-old: “How does it feel... to be on your own?” A seismic gap had opened up between generations and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless. Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become. He planted a flag, wrote the songs, sang the words that were essential to the times, to the emotional and spiritual survival of so many young Americans at that moment.
Al Gore has weighed in with his thoughts. It’s safe to say he approves.
Inspired by Will Self’s comments to the Guardian about whether or not Dylan should accept the Nobel, children’s author Michael Rosen has been moved to pen a verse.
Self said earlier today:
It cheapens Dylan to be associated at all with a prize founded on an explosives and armaments fortune, and more often awarded to a Buggins whose turn it is than a world-class creative artist. Really, it’s a bit like when Sartre was awarded the Nobel – he was primarily a philosopher, and had the nous to refuse it. Hopefully Bob will follow his lead.
The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch is seeking to settle the argument via Twitter poll:
I really enjoyed this piece by Alfred Soto on MTV’s website on why Dylan deserves the Nobel. The whole thing’s great, but here’s a sample paragraph:
There’s no getting around the fact that, say, Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s Field Work works differently than Blonde on Blonde. An ear for assonance and meter as fine as the one that belonged to the 1995 Nobel winner serves a linguistic pleasure that requires the spatial limits of a blank, white, demanding page. So much of the pleasure I get from Dylan, on the other hand, derives from the voice singing those lyrics. He was never more moving than the decade when his larynx turned into a rusted carburetor; he sang like a carping vulture, and I loved it.
There are plenty of music writers on Facebook debating Dylan’s win. One of them is our Chicago-based country music writer Mark Guarino, who has given me permission to quote from his post in defence of Dylan’s win, which is being shared a lot. He writes:
- Lyrics are not meant to outlast the music. Dylan’s do. His work fundamentally changed the art form. Today the marketing people would call him a “disrupter” and a “change agent.” His use of language is profound, playful and instinctual. Somehow he developed pop music that works well in the back of a bar, but at the same time you can disappear inside the songs and let them work their magic. As great poetry does.
- He has a body of work that stretches more than 50 years, which is much longer than most contemporary novelists, poets, painters. Even his so-called “bad” period in the 80s contained some of his most evocative writing (Oh Mercy). Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson and many others created great work but within very specific time periods. Dylan never stopped. Some of his late career work stands firmly up against Blonde on Blonde. More incredibly, despite great fame he was able to sit down again and again and write with a true eye, which isn’t easy to do. Ask any number of your classic rockers who stopped decades ago.
- Dylan’s songs live as both highbrow and lowbrow. His fans span truck drivers to Ivy League academics. His songs have meaning to people who heard them in the Woodstock era and to those who heard them during the first Iraq war. There are people who attend his concerts to pump their fists in the air and there are others who quietly count the syllables. For a body of work to be so pliable is the very definition of great literature.
- Shakespeare wrote plays that have been turned into music, movies, and are performed in garages to great halls. Are not songs simply internal monologues that are sung? Are some novels poetry and some chapbooks novels? Literature is ultimately about the language, not the genre.
- This prize is affirmation that pop culture can aspire to, and achieve, high art. People thought pop music was for children before Dylan and the Beatles showed up. He fused the folk revival with pop to steer things in a new direction. Now songwriters can aspire to greatness far outside the commercial realm. Indeed into one where so-called “serious” literature exists. “Hits” have little to do with what he left behind.
- Dylan is a humanist. Like Tennessee Williams, he sees our folly. Dylan’s lyrics reflect both deep nihilism about the human state of affairs and sometimes idealism about human encounters, one-on-one. Ever since the advent of the nuclear bomb, he has summed us up pretty well. He isn’t just a writer — he has a perspective.
Rob Delaney’s tweet has also provoked some US arts desk lols:
The creator and star of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has weighed in with an amusingly snarky tweet:
The debate about whether or not it was appropriate for Dylan, a songwriter, to win an award for literature, continues. Anna North writes in the New York Times that it wasn’t. She says that when the Nobel is awarded to a musician, “it misses the opportunity to honour a writer”. She adds:
They could have chosen a writer who has made significant innovations in the form, like Jennifer Egan, Teju Cole or Anne Carson. They could have selected a writer from the developing world, which remains woefully underrepresented among Nobel laureates. They could have picked a writer who has built an audience primarily online, like Warsan Shire, who became the first Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014.
But Bob, she concludes, was already famous in another field and quite garlanded enough.
I’m not sure I really buy this argument, to be honest. Is the Nobel really intended to give underrated artists exposure, like many people assume Britain’s music award the Mercury prize should do?
An affectionate gag from Britain’s David Baddiel.
Hello, it’s Alex Needham taking over this blog from New York. Earlier, I “reached out” (as we say in these parts) to Jonathan Franzen for his reaction to Dylan’s Nobel win. The eminent novelist replied:
It’s a bitter disappointment to those of us who hoped that Morrissey would win this year. But it gives us hope for next year.
Bob Dylan in his Empire Burlesque phase. Here’s Rolling Stone on his overlooked decade.
Just look at those dark eyes...
And, speaking of Dark Eyes, here he is duetting with Patti Smith on the track a decade later
Salman Rushdie: ‘I intend to spend the day playing Mr Tambourine Man!’
“We live in a time of great lyricist-songwriters – Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits – but Dylan towers over everyone. His words have been an inspiration to me all my life ever since I first heard a Dylan album at school and I am delighted by his Nobel win. The frontiers of literature keep widening, and it’s exciting that the Nobel Prize recognises that. I intend to spend the day playing Mr Tambourine Man, Love Minus Zero - No Limit, Like a Rolling Stone, Idiot Wind, Jokerman, Tangled Up In Blue and It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.
Dylan says ‘no comment’
If you’re holding your breath for a reaction from the new laureate, you might have to wait a while. A representative told Associated Press that he had “no immediate comment”.
Meanwhile, our US team are hotfooting it over to Las Vegas to catch tonight’s gig, which it appears is not yet sold out ... Far be it from us to do Ticketmaster’s job, but as we write, you can nab a seat at the back of the gallery for $69.
Here’s a handy Spotify sampler for anyone who can’t quite remember which song is which (as if!):
The New Yorker’s verdict
The New Yorker’s David Remnick is also in celebratory mood:
What an astonishing and unambiguously wonderful thing! There are novelists who still should win (yes, Mr. Roth, that list begins with you), and there are many others who should have won (Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov, Auden, Levi, Achebe, Borges, Baldwin . . . where to stop?), but, for all the foibles of the prize and its selection committee, can we just bask for a little while in this one? The wheel turns and sometimes it stops right on the nose.
Only one question for the New York Times: What took them so long?
It’s not as if some new work suddenly clinched the deal. Mr. Dylan has been recognized by anyone who cares about words — not to mention music — since the 1960s, when he almost immediately earned an adjective as his own literary and musical school: Dylanesque.
NYT writer Jon Pareles continues:
...there’s no question that Mr. Dylan has created a great American songbook of his own: an e pluribus unum of high-flown and down-home, narrative and imagistic, erudite and earthy, romantic and cutting, devout and iconoclastic, finger-pointing and oracular, personal and universal, compassionate and pitiless. His example has taught writers of all sorts — not merely poets and novelists — about strategies of both pinpoint clarity and anyone’s-guess free association, of telegraphic brevity and ambiguous, kaleidoscopic moods.
Stephen King is delighted
Here’s the great Stephen King making the very good point that, whatever one thinks of Dylan’s literary gifts, this award is going to be a tonic for American morale.
What the stars are saying
Billy Bragg: “The last couple of stanzas of Mr Tambourine Man opened my eyes and ears to the idea that music and poetry could exist together: “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.” I heard them when I was 14 and they opened my mind to the possibility of pop being something more than background music.”
Jarvis Cocker: “I think Dylan’s sense of humour is often overlooked - when we did a Sunday Service to mark his birthday a couple of years ago, a lot of the archive clips were hilarious. A great choice by the Nobel Committee.”
Will Self: “Dylan is a great enough artist that his polymorphous talents include literary ones - the lyrics are amazing, although far better nasalled by the man himself than read on the page. The memoirs are not inconsiderable literary works.”
President Obama's reaction
And Obama has come good (as we knew he would):
Yes, but who is ‘he’ really?
Here’s a joke to bring the award back into the literary heartlands. For random rockers who may been lured into this blog by the fame of the recipient, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that The Neapolitan Quartet is the work of a mysterious author who goes by the name of Elena Ferrante …
The media commentariat begins to wade in
The Telegraph’s Tim Stanley believes that “a world that gives Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize is a world that nominates Trump for president”.
Our own Richard Williams, as previously mentioned, writes that: “In songs such as Tangled Up in Blue (1975), Blind Willie McTell (1983) and Cross the Green Mountain (2002) he explored ways of playing games with time, voice and perspective, continuing to expand the possibilities of song in ways that disarm all possible criticism.”
Vanity Fair’s Mike Hogan takes a look at Blonde on Blonde, which appears to have been the “key text” for the jury, judging by Sara Danius’s statement.
Meanwhile, Alexis Petrides has been meditating on the power of lyrics. Here’s your chance to nominate the ones you think stand up as literature:
We’re all waiting for pronouncements from the US political establishment.
Barack Obama could offer the current presidential contenders some tips, judging by this Rolling Stone article, which quotes him as follows:
“I have probably 30 Dylan songs on my iPod … Maggie’s Farm is one of my favorites during the political season … It speaks to me as I listen to some of the political rhetoric.”
Why Dylan deserves the prize
Here’s a transcript of Sara Danius’s Q&A. Could the subtext be that this is Sweden’s way of marking the passing of David Bowie?
Q: Does BD really deserve the prize?
Danius: Of course he does, he just got it. He is a great poet. He is a great poet in the English-speaking tradition and he is a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler, he embodies the tradition and for 55, 54 years now he’s been at it and re-inventing himself constantly. Re-inventing himself creating a new identity.
Q: Have you talked to him today?
Danius: No, I haven’t. I will afterwards.
Q: He’s not a person who is nice and smiley when he gets awards. That doesn’t worry you?
Danius: No, I think I have a good message.
Q: Do you have personal favourites among his songs?
Danius: I think if you want to start listening, or reading, you may start with Blonde on Blonde, the album from 1966. You’ve got many classics and it’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and putting together refrains and his pictorial thinking.
Q: He’s not written novels, not poetry in the usual sense, you have widened the horizon.
Danius: It may look that way but really we haven’t in a way if you look back, far back, 2500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to. They were meant to be performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way with Bob Dylan. But we still read Homer and Sappho and we enjoyed it [sic], we enjoy it and the same thing with Bob Dylan he can be read and should be read and he is a great poet in the English tradition, in the grand English poetic tradition.
Q: Do you think there will be criticism against this prize?
Danius: I hope not [smiles].
Q: When you were young and into pop rock music, which I guess you were, did you listen a lot to Bob Dylan?
Danius: Not really, but he was always around, so I know the music. I’ve started to appreciate him much more now than I did. I was a big David Bowie fan. Perhaps it is a question of generation, I don’t know. But today I’m a lover of Bob Dylan.
Message to Bob, ring Sweden
Still no word from Bob Dylan himself. According to his website he’s playing Vegas tonight – it’s possible he’s only just waking up. After all, it’s not quite 8am yet.
Philip Pullman puts in a plea
More writers rally behind Dylan – each to his own motive. Could this tweet, from the author of the bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy, be a coded plea for children’s fiction? Note to the Swedish Academy: that would be a popular surprise to spring if you’re looking to break the mould again.
The Guardian investigates the case for Dylan as poet
Predictably he relies often on traditional ballad meters, as the grass roots of oral poetry. Dylan is young, and admits it. He is naive and implies it at stations along his particular line. He is committed; yet what is a poet for these luminous days, when illumination may come from the clash of cobalt and iodine, if not to be committed? The same was said of Pound, Auden and MacNeice; the same is true to day of poets like Christopher Logue, Adrian Mitchell and George MacBeth. The difference is that Dylan is not a readers’ poet: some but by no means all of his verse is able to stand by itself but more commonly it needs musical backing and the strangely dry, bitter quality of his voice to supply the dimension that other poets derive from literal organisation.
Joyce Carol Oates puts her voice behind Dylan:
Meanwhile discussion is turning to which other songwriters might have merited a Nobel. Several commenters have nominated Leonard Cohen.
Here’s RR17’s pitch:
And here’s Hari Kunzru making a different call:
Richard Williams plays counsel for the defence:
Let’s not forget the great Dylanologist Mike Marqusee. Here he is reviewing Chronicles, Volume 1, back in 2004:
The prose is a Dylanesque blend of luminous specifics and myopic vagueness. It’s unpruned, sometimes repetitious. There are malapropisms and clichés. But the lapses and rough edges are part of the Dylan package.
Friday 28 August 1964, in a room in the Delmonico hotel at Park Avenue and 59th in New York City: When Dylan met the Beatles.
Here the folk-singing scarecrow-prophet introduced the excitable Scousers to marijuana for (allegedly) the first time. Ringo Starr, the first to be offered a smoke and ignorant of dope etiquette, chugged through that first joint like a stevedore attacking his first Woodbine of the morning and collapsed in a giggling mess. Brian Epstein became so stoned he could only squeak,”I’m so high I’m up on the ceiling.” Paul McCartney believed he’d attained true mental clarity for the first time in his life and instructed Beatles roadie and major-domo Mal Evans to write down everything he said henceforth. Dylan, meanwhile, lost his cool and began answering the hotel phone by shouting, “This is Beatlemania here!” Otherwise they drank wine and acted the goat, like bands do.
Our own Richard Williams on a high point of musical history for Dylanologists – the 50th anniversary of Subterranean Homesick Blues:
“There’s a pinch of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger’s Take It Easy in the jumbled images that spilled out almost faster than the ear could process them, nevertheless making perfect sense to its intended audience, who revelled in the truculence of its rapid-fire litany of instructions: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters” and “Better stay away from those/That carry around a fire hose.” Most tellingly, the gnomic wisdom of “You don’t need a weatherman/To know which way the wind blows” gave a name to a revolutionary student group whose members were, for a while, among America’s most wanted fugitives from justice following a campaign of bombings aimed at banks and government buildings.
The Nobel Prize twitterfeed is in an excitable mood:
And here is Sara Danius giving her citation:
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
All the early Roman kings in their sharkskin suits bow ties and buttons high top boots
As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden, the wounded flowers were dangling from the vines
At the time of my confession, and the hour of my deepest need
Here’s a sample of reader reactions to Dylan’s win:
Is this what one might call poetic prophecy?
I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face
Are we imagining it or is the tide of opinion turning in Dylan’s favour?:
Here’s some intriguing archaeological evidence of Dylan’s cult status in Sweden:
A contributor has pointed out that Rabindranath Tagore was also a songwriter, prompting this exchange:
Point duly taken.
A fair point from bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult...
And here’s an evocative pictorial record, published to celebrate Dylan’s 70th birthday.
Salman Rushdie has put himself emphatically among the ranks of the positive:
One man who will presumably be delighted by Dylan’s win is Christopher Ricks, who was among the first and foremost to hymn his literary qualities. Ricks must currently be among the most hunted men in the UK, where we believe he is, though he appears to have gone to ground.
Here’s an amusingly sceptical 2003 review of his book Dylan’s Visions of Sin, by the Observer’s Sean O’Hagan, who summed Dylan’s literary credentials up thus:
“Dylan is a singer-songwriter first and foremost. His poetry is contained in the wholeness of his art: the convergence of melody, line, turn of phrase, nuance, drawl, and, famously, electricity. His one book of published prose, the amphetamine-fuelled fragments that make up Tarantula, makes the Beats look disciplined and restrained.
For the record, here’s an extract from Tarantula, which was published in 1966 when the bard was 25:
Guns, the Falcon’s Mouthbook & Gashcat Unpunished
aretha/ crystal jukebox queen of hymn & him diffused in drunk transfusion would would heed sweet woundwave crippled & cry salute to oh great particular el dorado reel & ye battered personal god but she cannot she the leader of whom when ye flow, she cannot she has no back she cannot… beneath black flowery railroad fans & fig leaf shades & dogs of all nite joes, grow like arches & cures the harmonica battalions of bitter cowards, bones & bygones while what steadier louder the moans & arms of funeral landlord with one passionate kiss rehearse from dusk & climbing into the bushes with some favorite enemy ripping the postage stamps & crazy mailmen & waving all rank & familiar ambition than that itself, is needed to know that mother is not a lady… aretha with no goals, eternally single & one step soft of heaven/ let if be understood that she owns this melody along with her emotional diplomets & her earth & her musical secrets
Irvine Welsh leaps into the fray, fists flying:
A good point from one of our contributors:
And since Sara Danius seems to be regarding Dylan as a poet in a lineage stretching back to Homer and Sappho, what of the other poets who have taken the prize? Here are some of them:
Rabindranath Tagore won in 1913 “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.
Pablo Neruda won in 1971 “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams”.
Eugenio Montale won in 1975 “for his distinctive poetry which, with great artistic sensitivity, has interpreted human values under the sign of an outlook on life with no illusions”
Vicente Aleixandre won in 1977 “for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man’s condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars”
Odysseus Elytis won in 1979 “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness”.
Jaroslav Seifert won in 1984 “for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man”.
Seamus Heaney won in 1995 ”for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.
Wislawa Szymborska won in 1996: “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”
Tomas Tranströmer won in 2011 “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”
At this early stage. Dylan’s win is creating a fairly deep divide in opinion:
Dylan is the first songwriter to have won the prize, and his regular appearance in the betting odds was regarded as one of the longrunning jokes of the Nobels.
In 2011, a late gamble sent him soaring up the odds to become the fourth favourite, due to what Ladbrokes described as “a substantial gamble from clued-up literary fans”.
In her citation, Sara Danius said that though the choice might seem surprising, “if you look far back ... you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it.”
Bob Dylan is the 259th American to have won a Nobel, across all disciplines, and the first to win the literature prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. He is the ninth American to land the literary laurels since the medals were founded in 1901, putting an end to an apparent hostility among the Swedish academicians towards American literature, which reached its apogee in 2008 with an extraordinary tirade by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury.
He said: “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature … That ignorance is restraining.”
US Nobel laureates in literature
Sinclair Lewis, 1930
Eugene Gladstone O’Neill, 1936
Pearl Buck, 1938
TS Eliot, 1948
William Faulkner, 1949
Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1954
John Steinbeck, 1962
Toni Morrison, 1993
Sara Danius, permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, describes Dylan as “A great sampler … and for 54 years he has been at it, reinventing himself.”
Start with Blonde on Blonde, she said... “An extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming. putting together refrains, and his brilliant way of thinking.”
And the winner is...
Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
With just a couple of minutes to go, the famous doors remain closed and there’s an excitable buzz in the Nobel forum...
Peeping into the archives
The Nobel archives are a treasure trove of trivia, with the list of nominees for each year only revealed 50 years on. In 1965, the most recent list to have been made public, the prize went to Mikhail Sholokhov “for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people”.
Sholokhov, it has transpired, won ahead of Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges on the basis of only four nominations, in a year in which André Malraux received six and Ramón Menéndez Pidal secured six. Pidal, a Spanish philologist and historian, died in 1964 without ever winning, despite having an astonishing 149 nominations between 1931 and 1964.
Why the delay?
The Nobel prize in literature is usually awarded in the same week as the science medals, so this year’s delay has got tongues wagging. Does it reveal a split among the jury?
Academician Per Wästberg has denied this is the case, saying it was simply a matter of diary logistics, but Swedish media commentators smell a schism:
“If you ask me, it’s absolutely not a ‘calendar’ issue. This is a sign there’s a disagreement in the process to select a winner.” Bjorn Wiman, cultural editor at Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter, told the South China Morning Post.
Swedish Radio reporter Mattias Berg suggested the Academy’s 18 members may have argued over a “politically controversial laureate, such as Adonis,” the Syrian poet, whose most recent publication is a polemic tract on political Islam.
Seasoned Nobel watchers may remember a similar delay back in 2005 when Observer journalist Alex Duval Smith reported that the jury had split over Orhan Pamuk for political reasons. The prize that year eventually went to Harold Pinter, though Pamuk went on to take in the following year.
What are the odds for this year's prize?
Ladbrokes today has Ngugi wa Thiong’o as as favourite at 7/2, with Haruki Murakami tied in second place with the Syrian poet Adonis at 6/1.
Italian scholar Claudio Magris jumped from 33/1 to 12/1 this morning, while Don DeLillo was a surprise entrant into the top 10 earlier in the week.
Studying the betting might seem like a mug’s game, but analysis from Ladbrokes has shown that over the last 10 years the last-minute favourite has taken the prize four times, while 91% of the time the winner has had odds of 10/1 or less when betting was suspended. The eventual winner has also seen their odds decrease by an average of 32% in the final week before the prize is announced.
On the Guardian books desk we’re hoping for someone from the world beyond Europe. A woman would be good, too – Svetlana Alexievich’s win last year only went a tiny way to addressing the historical imbalance. But if it must be a white European bloke, how about Spain’s Javier Marías (currently 16/1)?.
Welcome to our live coverage of the Nobel prize in literature 2016
Welcome to the final flush of this year’s Nobel season when the sixth and last medal of 2016 will be awarded to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction ...” Or that was the intention of the 19th-century industrialist Alfred Nobel, who endowed the award from a fortune made from weapons and explosives. This rubric goes some way to explaining its occasional eccentricity – who today would consider the first recipient, Sully Prudhomme, to be ideally directed?
Each prize this year is worth 8m Swedish krona or £744,000, and we will be here to record who will be the 113th writer to receive this eye-watering sum, and the accompanying starburst of literary celebrity, at 12noon BST (1pm Central European Time).
Judging by the last couple of years the person who is least likely to have picked the winner is the winner him- or herself. The French writer Patrick Modiano was out to lunch with his wife when news of his win broke in 2014, while Svetlana Alexievich’s surprise last year was written across her face when the Belarusian journalist answered an unexpected knock on her door …