Bob Dylan was honored last week with a Nobel Prize in Literature for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” This was big news in the music world, but what really caught my eye is that he is the first American to be honored in this category since 1993, when Toni Morrison received the honor.
So, I began to consider Dylan and Morrison together and wonder why, over the past quarter-century, have these two storytellers in particular been singled out for a Nobel? Certainly songwriting and fiction are different mediums of expression, but the worlds these two have illuminated through their stories — each with their unique cadence & language — have become iconic, inspiring generations of wordsmiths to come. Their work is personal, political, universal: Dylan and Morrison have spent their lives telling the story of their American experience in a way that resonates with all of us — illuminating social and civil injustices, inspiring movements.
And to me, that’s what’s so special about the American arts, and is exemplified by Dylan — at its best, music inspires dialogue between ourselves as individuals, as communities and as a nation. The change itself may be glacial, but it can be spurred along through a song, novel or other work of art that shares a distinct point of view and forces us to confront and question our reality. And the strength of creative voices like Dylan is, both now and in the future, fundamentally connected to the protection of our constitutional freedoms, and our lawmakers’ willingness to ensure these freedoms for all. At our best, our artists startle us, challenge us, make us acknowledge our collective flaws and demand better. And that’s uniquely American.
Amy Crawford is Senior Producer at Man Made Music.
You can find her on Twitter @amyecrawford.