10 December 2016
The Swedish Academy honored the 2016 Nobel Prize recipients during a ceremony held in Stockholm on Saturday. Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, was not in attendance due to a schedule conflict. He did, however, write a speech which was read, which was read by United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji. Additionally, Patti Smith appeared on his behalf and performed a stunning cover of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with accompaniment of an orchestra.
Read the full transcript of Dylan’s speech below.
Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.
I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.
I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.
If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.
I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”
When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.
Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.
But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.
But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.
Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”
So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.
My best wishes to you all,
Bob Dylan Nobel prize speech: this is 'truly beyond words'
Songwriter sends a speech and Patti Smith to the Nobel awards dinner in Sweden rather than attending in person
Vanessa Thorpe and David Connett
Sunday 11 December 2016
Bob Dylan admitted he was stunned and surprised when he was told he had won a Nobel prize because he had never stopped to consider whether his songs were literature.
Dylan, whose speech was read out by the US ambassador to Sweden at the annual awards dinner, said the prize was “something I never could have imagined or seen coming”.
He said from an early age he had read and absorbed the works of past winners and giants of literature such as Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus and Hemingway. But said it was “truly beyond words” that he was joining those names on the winners list. “If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon,” he wrote.
The announcement that Dylan had won the literature prize caused controversy with critics arguing his lyrics were not literature. On learning he had been awarded the literature prize Dylan said he thought of Shakespeare. “When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: ‘Who’re the right actors for these roles? How should this be staged? Do I really want to set this in Denmark?’
“His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. ‘Is the financing in place? Are there enough good seats for my patrons? Where am I going to get a human skull?’ I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question: ‘Is this literature?’
“Like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavours and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. ‘Who are the best musicians for these songs? Am I recording in the right studio? Is this song in the right key?’ Some things never change, even in 400 years. Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself ‘are my songs literature?’ So, I do thank the Swedish academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question and ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”
Earlier during the awards ceremony a nervous Patti Smith stumbled through Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall in a performance given to mark the handing over of the absent Dylan’s Nobel prize for literature.
Formally presenting the award Horace Engdahl, a Swedish literary critic and member of the Swedish academy behind the prize, responded to international criticism of the choice of a popular lyricist as recipient. In defence of the decision, Engdahl said that when Dylan’s songs were heard first in the 1960s: “All of a sudden, much of the bookish poetry in our world felt anaemic.”
The academy’s choice of Dylan, Engdahl added, speaking in Swedish, “seemed daring only beforehand and already seems obvious”.
And it was an unconventional prize-giving night in more ways than one. Dylan’s failure to attend the august gathering in Stockholm meant that Smith, the American singer famous for her 1975 album Horses and the hit song Because the Night, was attending as his proxy. The occasion proved too much for the singer, 69, who faltered after a few verses.
Forgetting the lyric “I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’,” she apologised quietly but profusely to the jewel-bedecked audience and asked if she could start that section of the song again. “I am so nervous,” she explained. Smith was encouraged by applause from the gathered dignitaries and members of the Swedish royal family.
Her performance followed Engdahl’s justificatory speech, which opened with the question: “What brings about the great shifts in the world of literature? Often it is when someone seizes upon a simple, overlooked form, discounted as art in the high sense, and makes it mutate.”
In this way, Engdahl argued, the novel had once emerged from anecdote and letters, while drama had eventually derived from games and performance. “In the distant past, all poetry was sung or tunefully recited,” he said. Dylan had dedicated himself to music played for ordinary people and tried to copy it.
“But when he started to write songs, they came out differently,” Engdahl said. “He panned poetry gold, whether on purpose or by accident is irrelevant … He gave back to poetry its elevated style, lost since the romantics.”