Nobel Laureate, Soyinka Criticizes Bob Dylan’s 2016 Literature Prize

Daud Olatunji

Renowned Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka has vehemently expressed his belief that the Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to American singer Bob Dylan in 2016 was a grave mistake. 

Soyinka’s unwavering stance on this issue was revealed during a recent interview with Turkish journalist Aysegul Sert in Paris, the excerpts of which were published in an article titled “Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka on a Lifetime of Art and Activism” on October 19, 2023, by Literary Hub.

In 2016, the Nobel Committee honored Bob Dylan with the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” 

However, Soyinka’s critical perspective asserts that this choice was fundamentally flawed because, in his opinion, crafting lyrics or composing songs does not qualify as literature but as music.

During the interview, Soyinka passionately argued, “The prize for literature should have never gone that way! As a music lover and a composer myself, I respect music, but there is something called literature, and we don’t have enough prizes as is. If they award this prize to one more musician, I am sending all my musical compositions to the Grammys. 

I know what I consider literature, and writing lyrics or certain songs is not literature, it is music! You want to have a Nobel Prize for music, fine, I’ll be there, but don’t say that you are taking a prize away from this discipline and extending it to another!”

When questioned about what the Nobel Prize has meant for his life, Soyinka candidly responded that it has changed nothing for him. 

He emphasized that, if anything, the accolade has only added to the challenges he faces in maintaining his anonymity.

Soyinka’s strong words continue to fuel the debate over the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan in 2016, highlighting the enduring divide between those who see song lyrics as a form of literary art and those who believe that literature should be recognized within more traditional confines.

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