Back in the 19th century, the Swedish scientist and businessman Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and other explosives. A French newspaper called him a “merchant of death” who “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before”. Nobel did not want to be remembered like this, so he decided to leave his fortune to people who make the world a better place. To do so, he created the Nobel Prize. Each year the Prize is awarded to eminent people in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. Today the Nobel Prize is considered the most prestigious award in these fields. Authors who write in English have dominated the Literature Prize with 28 winners out of 113 (plus 3 who wrote both in English and in another language). Among them are 11 American, 10 British and 4 Irish writers. The winners are chosen by the members of the Swedish Academy, helped by the advice of scholars from around the world. Not everybody agrees with the choices of the Academy, but no choice was more controversial than this year’s.
Are songs literature?
This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded not to a novelist, nor to a poet, nor to a playwright, but, for the first time, to a singer-songwriter: the American music legend Bob Dylan. The Academy chose him because he created “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Many writers and critics around the world praised the decision. Others agreed that it was time for an American writer to win the Prize – the last one was Tony Morrison who won it 23 years ago – but they believed that novelists like Philip Roth or Don DeLillo were far more deserving than Bob Dylan. Some claimed that songs belong to a different art form: they are not literature. Others said that even if one considers songs literature, Bob Dylan’s lyrics did not deserve a Nobel Prize. The heated debate continued, and while the world was discussing him, Bob Dylan said nothing.
Speechless or arrogant?
Bob Dylan did not comment on winning the Prize. Many wondered: was he going to refuse it? For sure, he was ignoring it. The Swedish Academy tried to get in touch with him, but it gave up after more than ten days of failed attempts. One of its members suggested that Dylan was being “impolite and arrogant.” A few more days passed and finally Dylan called the Academy and said that winning the Prize left him “speechless.” He accepted the Prize but he wasn’t sure if he could attend the Nobel ceremony on 10 December. Again the world wondered: was he being rude a second time? The days passed and finally Dylan said that he was not going to the Nobel ceremony due to “pre-existing commitments.” What could be more important than receiving from the hands of the King of Sweden the greatest literary prize in the world?
Prizes and artistic freedom
The critics of Bob Dylan’s attitude probably did not consider that not all writers approve of the Nobel Prize. In 1925 Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw almost refused it. He wittily said: “I can forgive Alfred Nobel for having invented dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.” He probably considered prizes fit for competitions, not for art forms such as literature. In 1964, French writer Jean-Paul Sartre won the Prize but refused it. He claimed that a writer should be free and should not be “institutionalised.” Bob Dylan differs from Shaw and Sartre because he accepted the Prize and seems to consider it important. His attitude, though, seems to suggest that he also believes, like Shaw and Sartre, that artistic freedom is more important. Writers write for personal reasons or to communicate with their readers, not to win prizes. If they win them, that’s fine, but it’s no big deal. Even if it is the Nobel Prize in Literature.
1) Watch this video to learn more about the Nobel Prize:
2) Here is the official page of the Nobel Prize in Literature:
3) Find out some interesting facts about the Nobel Prize in Literature:
4) What do you know about this year’s winner? Learn more about Bob Dylan here:
5) George Bernard Shaw was famous for his intelligent, often witty remarks:
1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.
1. Alfred Nobel was criticized because
- his inventions were dangerous.
- he created the Nobel Prize.
- he became rich.
2. The winners of the Nobel Prize are chosen by
- Alfred Nobel.
- the Swedish Academy.
- scholars from around the world.
3. So far, the winners of the Prize who wrote in English are
4. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize because of his
5. One of the 11 American Nobel Prize winners for Literature is
- Tony Morrison.
- Philip Roth.
- George Bernard Shaw.
6. The Swedish Academy called Bob Dylan, but
- Dylan answered that he was busy.
- they couldn’t get through.
- Dylan said that he was not interested in the Prize.
7. Bob Dylan
- said he will accept the Nobel Prize on 10 December.
- refused the Nobel Prize.
- accepted the Nobel Prize.
8. George Bernard Shaw said that
- dynamite was a worse invention than the Nobel Prize.
- the Nobel Prize was a worse invention than dynamite.
- he did not want to be “institutionalised.”
9. The Nobel Prize was refused by
- George Bernard Shaw.
- Bob Dylan.
- Jean-Paul Sartre.
10. Dylan, Shaw and Sartre believe in
- artistic freedom.
- the importance of literary prizes.
- the importance of the Nobel Prize.
2) Complete the sentences with the following words.
eminent * speechless * commitment * wit * merchant * lyrics * fortune * field * scholar * fiend
1. The surprise made her so happy that it left her ______.
2. Shaw was full of ______: he could always make funny and intelligent remarks.
3. The words of a song are called ______.
4. When he died, the rich businessman left a ______ to his children.
5. A ______ is a large open space, but it can also mean a specific area or subject of human activity.
6. A ______ is a devilish, evil person.
7. If you promise to do something, you are making a ______.
8. Einstein was an ______ physicist: he was among the best scientists of his age.
9. A person who works buying and selling goods is called a ______.
10. That professor is a Latin ______: he’s been studying that ancient language all his life.
GRAMMAR – Conjunctions
3) Complete the sentences using the following conjunctions:
because (x2) * unless * although * while * that * whereas * when * if * but
1. Alfred Nobel was called a “merchant of death” ______ he invented dynamite.
2. Alfred Nobel was so shocked by the criticism ______ he decided to become a philanthropist.
3. ______ the Academy announced the winner, the journalists let out a gasp of surprise.
4. ______ he is a songwriter, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
5. ______ Bob Dylan remained silent, the world talked about him.
6. Many critics agreed with the Academy’s choice, ______ many others did not.
7. A member of the Academy said that Bob Dylan was rude ______ he did not answer the Academy’s calls.
8. Bob Dylan said he would go to the Ceremony ______ he had previous commitments.
9. “______ I have nothing else to do, I will come,” he said.
10. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize, ______ Philip Roth did not.
4) Who is your favourite writer? Why do you like his/her work? Has he/she taught you something important? (60-80 words)
5) Do some research on Bob Dylan or on another Nobel Prize winner, then write about him/her. (60-80 words)