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Divided house of literature for Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win

By Anote Ajeluorou, Assistant Arts Editor
23 October 2016   |   4:35 am
According to Akubuiro, “It is no longer news that the American musician Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I have always been a critic of the Nobel Prize in the manner prizes are “given”.
Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

A day after Nigeria awarded its biggest literary prize to Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for his finely wrought novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms, last Wednesday, the world’s literary house was thrown into controversy when the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to America’s songwriter and singer, Bob Dylan. A Nigerian literary editor and novelist, Mr. Henry Akubuiro, took the battle to Facebook and expressed regret that, once again, Africa’s literary son, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, was overlooked for a writer of lyrics.

According to Akubuiro, “It is no longer news that the American musician Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I have always been a critic of the Nobel Prize in the manner prizes are “given”. Years ago, I wrote a piece where I pilloried the Swedish Academy for robbing great writers like Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o while rewarding less accomplished scribblers… Why is Ngugi being looked down upon by the aged Nobel Prize Committee members while crowning the Bob Dylans of this world who are literary lightweights? Does it mean that, one day, our own Davido and Whizkid will win the Nobel Prize for Literature for their romantic Afrobeat lyrics? What exactly constitutes great literature from a Nobel perspective?”

The Dylan’s win controversy is actually worldwide, with writers of various hue writing in favour or criticizing the award. Indian-born British writer and author of Satanic Verses, Mr. Salman Rusdie also took to Twitter and said Dylan was a ‘great choice’ for the prize. He wrote last week, “From Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice”.

In the Guardian of London, Rusdie expanded on why lyrics equal literature, when he said, “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 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 ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.’”

Professor of oral literature and president of Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA), G.G. Darah, couldn’t agree more with Rusdie’s affirmation of the ever-expanding frontiers of literature. Ahead of NOLA 2016 conference that opened mid last week at the Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja, Darah commended the Nobel Committee for awarding the literature prize to Dylan in recognition of oral poetics and the pervasive influence of new media.

According to Darah, “The award of 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature to America’s songwriter, Bob Dylan, enhances the integrity of oral poetry and performance arts. This will inspire African creative artists such as popular musicians and stand-up comedians that abound in Nigeria. The NOLA 2016 conference theme ‘Orality, New Media and Creative Industries’ is apt”.

An admirer, Cappello said, “Who would have thought that putting a string of words together will sound such a cord with the awards committee. Moral of the story, “have fun doing whatever you do; let others worry about their own perception; you are the only one who can determine the pleasure you derive from it. Bob Dylan’s mastery lyrics is sheer poetry, poetry is music and music is the highest form of art. Dylan deserves the prize.”

Mr. Chike Ofili lent a lyrical lore to the debate, saying Christopher Okigbo’s lyrical poetry foretold the moment. According to him, “BOB DYLAN stole Christopher OKIGBO’S THUNDER on a NOBEL NOTE when, in a posthumous gambit, they decided to see where literature mated and married music in a lyrical orality accompanied by a lyre… Only Okigbo set forth before dawn to set his poetry and fingers on a musical note and many musical instruments. But he was ahead of the Swedish Academy in their afterthought.”

But Abuja-based poet, Mr. Ikeogu Oke, will not be persuaded. As he put it, “The argument that music is poetry (which is not always true) has been used to justify the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, a great musician and songwriter. Now dance is also poetry (in motion). So it would be right to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to some great dancer, perhaps a Russian ballerina, someday?”

For Mr. Chinedu Ohaegbulam, Achebe and wa Thiong’o need be awarded the Nobel Prize to affirm their greatness as men of letters, “Achebe and Ngugi… Yes, GREAT African writers: They are very FAMOUS without being Nobelists! I dearly crave to be FAMOUS without with a prize. The GREATEST FAME can only be found in HUMANITY’S HEART, and that is where true FAME lives…”

Prof. Mark Nwagwu gushed over his love for Dyan, “I immensely love this man. His MY BACK PAGES, one oh, his greatest, and the title of my Valedictory Lecture in 2003 (University of Ibadan) was played verse by verse during the lecture. The song leaves me ever searching for new beginnings.”

Associate Professor of Literature at Carleton University, Canada, Dr. Nduka Otiono wrote, “Still digesting the news of Bob Dylan’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature and remembering the following November 2009 status update. At the time I was teaching one of my favourite Dylan works at the University of Alberta, “Man in the long black coat” in the course, Literature in Global Perspectives. The Nobel Academy’s affirmation of Dylan’s art is a vote for the role of popular culture in modern times…”

For Diaspora poet, Amatorisero Ede, other lyricists like Tupac Shakur should also win the prize, noting, “These ideological heads in Sweden know what they are doing. It is their prize and theirs to give out. They just now reduced the weight of that prize with this latest insane award… Tupac Shakur should get a Nobel Prize, too. His lyrics is as poetic, revolutionary and life-changing as Bob Dylan’s.”

Hilary Njoegbu argued, “that Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize, Achebe’s and Ngugi’s achievements stand very tall. In fact, it is better to qualify for a prize and not win it than not to qualify for a prize and win it. I can list a hundred great writers who never won the Nobel, whose works transcend time. Besides, there is also the fate or luck factor. Some are not destined to win national and international Honors. Austin Jay Jay Okocha is a case in point to support this argument. He was a great, if not the greatest African footballer of all times, yet he never won common African Footballer title,”

But the poet, Ms Jumoke Verissimo, brought the conversation to a head with her challenge, “How many of us have taken the time to listen, read (Yes, he has books with musical notation in them) and understand this Bob Dylan that we’re crying doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize? Why do you condemn what you lack understanding of?”

To which challenge, Mr. Ike Okonta, submitted, “Bob Dylan, rock-poet of the now generation, has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. He deserves it. Let the literary world rejoice!”

But another Diaspora poet, Prof. Olu Oguibe, expressed mixed feelings about Dylan’s win, when he said, “I love Dylan, of course, and I think he’s one of the greatest poets that ever lived. But I do have mixed feelings about this one, frankly. There are more than enough deserving writers out there.”

However, Okonta did not agree with Oguibe, as he noted, “There will always be deserving writers, Olu. But there is only one prize for Literature and unlike the other categories it can’t be split. Join me in toasting the poet who penned the immortal ‘Blowin in the wind.’”

Mr. Kelechi Deca brought a personal twist to the argument with a sense of déjà vu, when he said, “Interestingly, I visited a dear friend three days ago in Alexandria VA. After my visit, he gave me a CD in a sealed envelope with a stern warning not to open it until I get back to Nigeria. I forgot to open it until last night. Guess????… is Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing it Back Home’, an album he released in 1965. When I heard the news of his Nobel Prize this morning, I was speechless.”

Interestingly, British novelist and journalist, Mr. Will Self, has gone so far as to suggest that it would do Dylan a great deal of good to reject the prize, arguing that a prize funded from proceeds from dynamites and armament lowers Dylan’s humanity and genius. As he put it, “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. My relation with Dylan’s art has been consistently intense and rewarding.

“No, my only caveat about the award is that it cheapens Dylan to be associated at all with a prize founded on an explosives and armaments fortune. 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.”