Text of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Bob Dylan

Though not in attendance at the ceremony in Stockholm, Bob Dylan nevertheless accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature today.

As people in Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing celebrated the accomplishments of their famous son, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, Anita Raji, read Dylan’s speech into the record.

It was short, grateful, and focused on the question of “What is Literature?”

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway.

These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all,
Bob Dylan

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank you, Aaron, for posting Bob’s acceptance speech acknowledging his appreciation for receiving the Nobel Prize today. As a schoolfrien friend of Bob’s, I was proud to read his words to the Academy and how he so eloquently expressed his appreciation. Job well done!
    Cal Saari 1960 Hibbing Graduate

  2. Great choice of photo too!

  3. I also appreciate the post Aaron. A good friend of mine, Jerry Bergsrud, played drums in a band with Bobby in his formative Hibbing days.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this text! Appropriate because of where you live!

  5. Watched the Nobel ceremony on youtube. Patti Smith’s rendition of “A hard rain’s a gonna fall” was very human and very moving (she forgot some lines in the middle). Somehow it all seemed to fit the political context of the U.S. Now I know why Bob Dylan received the prize for great literature.

    • I agree Elanne. This past eight years of hell Obama has created, world-wide, is summed up very well by Bobby’s words in “A hard rain’s a gonna fall” –

      “I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken”
      “Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden”
      “Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin'”
      “I met another man who was wounded with hatred”….
      Pretty down and out tone!

      But….with Obama’s ugly chapter closing, us kicking Crooked Hillary to pasture and putting Trump in charge, this will soon all change. We’ll soon be singing as Bobby did in “Saved” –

      “I was blinded by the devil” but
      “By His grace I have been touched”
      “I’ve been saved”
      “I want to thank You, Lord, I just want to thank You, Lord”….
      The Range, the U.S., the world, will be a much more upbeat place.

      • Honestly, Bob. Can we just enjoy the speech for what it is and leave the politics on all the other posts? If you read anything about current events or politics out of Dylan’s speech that’s clearly your hangup, not his.

        • Elanne directly brought up politics Aaron, not me. I had no intent to tarnish Bobby’s award, nor the Noble Committees credentials to hand out Peace, or other Noble “prizes”. I think your blind as to how biased you are to readers not in-line with your own political beliefs…vs. those of similar thinking.

          • Elanne made a very general, nondescript comment that a particular song reminded her of current events. Nothing more. Could be perceived multiple ways. We know Elanne has her politics and you have yours. No need to elaborate.

            Then you, Bob, hauled in a boat load of specific political vitriol for the president. I see this happen a lot, of course, but this was such a nice post with such a nice, positive vibe. It bothers me when you escalate these conversations into the tit-for-tat of online troll wars. I’m not blind. I’m just tired of this. I feel you are needlessly aggressive and conflict-oriented on your posts. Always politics. Rarely common humanity. I know you’re capable of the latter, which is why I put up with the rest.

            I probably shouldn’t have said anything. I’m not going to argue with you. Not good for me. But I am letting you know what I think.

      • You got that all wrong, Ranger. I bet Bob agrees with me! What are you looked no forward to most about the next four years?

  6. Thanks Aaron. Love your website!!! Keep it up!!!

    Liz

  7. Aaron, thanks for this post. I have loved Bob’s lyrics since the beginning of his career, and I love that the Nobel Committee was creative enough to recognize them as great literature. Also love his Shakespeare analogy. His mom, Beatty, would be bursting with pride.

  8. Nancy Peterson says

    I have loved Bob’s lyrics since the beginning of his career, and I love that the Nobel Committee was creative enough to recognize them as great literature. Also love his Shakespeare analogy. His mom, Beatty, would be bursting with pride. Thanks for this post. (Hibbing Class of ’61)

  9. Thanks Aaron. I was hoping someone would post this so we all could read yet more wonderfully poignant words from Mr. Dylan.

  10. Nice with your blog, it´s energy, your knowledge about Bob Dylan´s hometown. Good to hear about the surroundings, the people and the enviroments from Hibbing.
    Thanks for that!
    Here´s a little piece (blog) from Kista in Stockholm from The Nobel Price Ceremony! See http://kistalightnow.blogspot.se/2016/12/absent-friends-bob-dylan-och-patti-smith.html
    Greetings from Stockholm

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