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Nobel Prize for Bob Dylan divides world of literature from US to France

Pierre Guillaud, AFP | Archival picture shows US poet and folk singer Bob Dylan performing in Paris in 1978

The Swedish Academy’s decision to award the Nobel prize for literature to Bob Dylan has been greeted with enthusiasm by fans of the legendary American songwriter, but it has divided writers from the United States to France.


Following the surprise announcement in Stockholm on Thursday, President Barack Obama was among those to hail the Academy’s decision. He immediately took to Twitter to congratulate one of his “favourite poets” on a “well-deserved award”.

Compliments also quickly rained down from the literature world. British author Salman Rushdie, who was considered one of the favourites for the Nobel himself, highlighted how song and poetry were closely linked and declared on Twitter that Dylan was a, “Great choice”.

Literary superstar Stephen King joined the chorus of praise, calling the decision to bestow the Nobel on Dylan “A great and good thing in a season of sleaze and sadness”.

Other authors were less enthusiastic, however. New York Times editorialist and novelist Anna North on Thursday wrote that Dylan should not have been awarded the Nobel prize for literature, calling the Academy’s pick “disappointing”.

“Bob Dylan does not need a Nobel Prize in Literature, but literature needs a Nobel Prize. This year, it won’t get one,” North said.

Award-winning writer Gary Shteyngart was also among the dissenters, employing his well-known satirical style to express his annoyance: “I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard”.

Find a ‘real poet’

The news of Dylan’s Nobel also got mixed reviews from French writers.

Congolese-born French novelist and poet Alain Mabanckou responded positively to the news, and told the FranceInfo news channel that he was happy the poetic side of literature was being recognised.

While well-known critic Pierre Assouline lead the French charge against the Academy’s decision. In a strongly-worded opinion piece titled “The Nobel gives the finger to American literature”, he argued that choice was “disappointing” and condemned the committee for not choosing “a real” poet.

Other French writers also expressed frustration. French writer and translator Claro mocked the decision on Twitter: “Bob Dylan? What a relief, I was afraid it would be Julio Iglesias”, later adding “The times they really are a-changin’”.

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