Thumbs up for Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature

Singapore writers, poets and songwriters are in support of rock legend Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature

Writers, poets and songwriters in Singapore have expressed support for American rock legend Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dylan became the first songwriter to be awarded the prize last Thursday, a win that drew both praise and shock internationally.

The 75-year-old rock legend received the prize "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition", according to the Swedish Academy, which chooses the Nobel laureates in literature.

While some questioned his eligibility for the literary prize, having only published three books - Tarantula (1971), Writings And Drawings By Bob Dylan (1973) and Chronicles: Volume One (2004) - members of Singapore's literary and music communities are very much in support of his win.

Some, such as author and artist Desmond Kon, 45, feels Dylan's "legacy transcends the art world to speak to popular imagination... where his work has had great resonance in reflecting the socio-political struggles of his time".

  • What others say

  • "From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice."

    Author Salman Rushdie

    "I'm happy for Bob Dylan. #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?"

    Author Jodi Picoult

    "I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard."

    Writer Gary Shteyngart

    "Out of my repertoire spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury, mystery, beauty and humour than Bob's. None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again."

    Singer Joan Baez, Dylan's one-time girlfriend

    "An inspired choice by the Nobel committee... However, it would have been an equally exciting and inspired choice to have given the award to the surviving Beatles - arguably, their music is as significant, or more significant, than Bob Dylan's work."

    Author Joyce Carol Oates

Kon, who was a co-winner in the English poetry category of this year's Singapore Literature Prize, says: "When you think about how much he's empowered the lyric - he has experimented widely, from folk to blues to gospel to jazz - his gift to the world is quite phenomenal."

Home-grown singer-songwriter Kelvin Tan, 52, feels the win is an acknowledgement for the music community and what it stands for. He says: "For me, it's important for him to have won because it gives rock 'n' roll a certain regard it never had in the 'highbrow' community.

"It shows that rock 'n' roll and popular music have an intellectual sophistication and elegance that has never been fully embraced by the public at large or the literary intellectual community," says Tan, who is the author of two books and also a part-time lecturer at The Puttnam School of Film in Lasalle College of the Arts.

He adds: "It opens the doors for everyone else to be worthy of such an award."

But the possible opening of a floodgate on considerations for future winners of the literature prize has poet Marc Nair, 34, on the fence. The former literature teacher says he himself has used songs, including material by The National or Dave Matthews Band, to teach. "Songs are, by nature, lyrical and poetic - where poems are written to be fit to music, which doesn't necessarily diminish its poetic quality," he adds.

"But the flipside is also how many other equally deserving artists may never get it. Has it opened a possible floodgate or has this just teased the tip of the iceberg?" says Nair, who is the Writer in Residence (National) at the Nanyang Technological University's School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

"It opens that possibility to so many other songwriters and musicians - maybe someone like Leonard Cohen - winning it."

Either way, The National Poetry Festival's director Eric Tinsay Valles, 48, feels that it is about time Dylan won, citing the long-standing tradition of poetry's link with music, with mediaeval musicians such as roving troubadours and even the proto-Romantic poet Robert Burns.

He says: "Dylan's songs are the poems of our time, with his poetic lyrics having a wide mass appeal, which isn't alien to literature."

Dylan himself remained silent about the award and a spokesman declined to comment.

At a concert last Thursday evening in Las Vegas, the singer, as he often does, performed without speaking to the audience. For an encore, he sang Blowin' In the Wind.

• Additional reporting by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'He deserves Nobel Prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe