By Swedish consensus, Bob Dylan has “created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” and a literature prize is appropriate reward for Dylan’s efforts. By popular opinion of the Nigerian Literati, the Swedes have gone round the bend.
The decision of the Nobel prize Committee (“the Committee”) is, perhaps, the most significant literary event in the world. It has become tradition for literary magazines and news outlets to try pre-empting the Committee’s choice by employing inference, elimination, and a lot of guess-work.
2016 was no different. Different lists emerged, different justifications issued, still no matter the algorithm employed, some candidates remained constant. Kenyan Novelist, Essayist, Poet and Playwright, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, was in the category of constants. The idea that a Kenyan, another indigenous African writer, could win the prize meant that there was a shared, embracing sense of achievement across the continent. In Nigeria, the projected pride was more palpable because Ngugi is scheduled for a November visit as a guest of the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria. It seemed a thing of poetic significance that Ngugi, if he were elevated to the status of Laureate, would visit the home of the first black Literature Laureate, Wole Soyinka. Of course, there were outliers, the odd Nigerian who tipped in favor of America—Roth, Le Guin, Ford—still everyone admitted it would be a lovely thing, if Africa secured another win.
October 13, 2016 came and only a gifted few, working perhaps, with the magic of divine inspiration, could claim premonition. Luckily, Nigeria has, in Kola Tubosun, a member of that divinely inspired class of gifted few. Kola, a Nigerian writer, linguist, and teacher, commented via a Facebook post: “I could say I predicted Bob Dylan in 2013, but I’m modest.” And, making a statement about his approval of the Committee’s decision, he put up another post: “Those wondering why Dylan got the Nobel are most likely those still stuck on the idea of a physical book as the only medium for transmitting literature.” Kola is not alone in applauding the radical choice that is Dylan.
Efe Paul Azino, Poet, and Social commentator, tweeted: “As unpredictable as it was, I do not quarrel with the choice of Bob Dylan” — a back-slap to the Committee. And to show that his voice found company with greats, Azino retweeted Salman Rushdie: “From Orpheus to Faiz,song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”, with “Gbam!”, as commentary. Azino, a strong, captivating, performance poet, has always argued for new, non-traditional ways of experiencing literature.
Eghosa Imasuen, Novelist, Short-story writer, and General Manager of the Ake Arts and Book Festival, did not make a declarative statement about his assessment of the Committee’s decision. Instead, he retweeted President Obama’s congratulatory post: “Congratulations to one of my favorite poets, Bob Dylan, on a well-deserved Nobel.” Shame. It would have been lovely to read a remark in Pidgin – Imasuen’s signature in prose.
Pa Ikhide was more open, effusive even, about his praise of the Committee’s decision and Dylan’s qualification: “Bob Dylan wrote awesome poetry and turned them into beautiful songs, so haunting and full of depth and meaning, they changed our world as we know it. He more than deserved the Nobel Prize, this poet who also sings.”, the self-declared “reader who writes” posted on his Facebook wall. Beyond approval, Ikhide tweeted in defence of Dylan’s legacy: “How in the world would you call Bob Dylan’s works dumbed down? THAT is rich, haba!”
Chika Unigwe, Novelist, Short-story writer, winner of the 2012 Nigeria Prize for Literature, and shortlist for the 2016 edition of the prize, tweeted lines from Bob Dylan’s lyrics-cum-poems with the hashtag: #BobDylan, in apparent approval of the Committee’s decision. Still, her endorsement was nuanced when she tweeted: “For those suggesting that every songwriter out there deserves a Nobel, remember this: Every poetry is music but not every music is poetry”
Elnathan John, also a 2016 NLNG shortlisted author, tweeted in support of the Committee’s decision: “Yaaaaaaaaaasssss!!! *insert dancing-girl emoji*” and ostensibly constituted a part of the fifty percent of the 217 votes who declared that “Times they are a’changin” through the Deutsche Welle twitter poll – “Does #BobDylan deserve the #NobelPrize in Literature?”
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Novelist and 2016 recipient of the Nigeria Prize for Literature paused his day-old celebration to comment: “Is this it?”, ostensible jest, on The Guardian’s piece titled: “Are these the lyrics that won Bob Dylan a Nobel prize?”
Okey Ndibe, Author of the recently released Memoir: “Never Look an American in the Eye”, had, a day before the Swedish statement, declared on his Facebook page: “I hope the Swedish Academy confers the 2016 literature prize on the extraordinary Ngugi wa Thiong’o.” Two days after this declaration, his hopes dashed, he posted: “No, I don’t begrudge Bob Dylan–he’s a genius in several respects–but this piece from several years ago makes a case for Ngugi’s literary eminence”, with a link to The Guardian’s piece: “Why Ngugi Wa Thiong’o should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Novelist, Poet and Convener of the Ake Arts and Book Festival — Lola Shoneyin — had retweeted Ndibe’s hopeful declaration of October, 12, By October, 13, she was retweeting the British-Indian Novelist and Journalist, Hari Kunzuru: “So you can call me ‘vicious’, ‘ignorant’ or ‘bitter’ because I’m not super excited at Dylan’s Nobel, but we all know his records already”, “People could have been introduced to Marias or Ngugi or Yan Lianke or Solstad or Ugresic instead of confirming their Dylan love. So, meh.” Safe to say LS will not be organizing her team as a cheer squad for the Committee.
Molara Wood, Novelist, critic and Newspaper columnist, tweeted: “My mouth opened. It’s one thing to call a musician/lyricist a poet, it’s another to give him the Nobel Prize for Literature”, and continued to tweet: “Na wa! Like seriously???” —> Like seriously”, “love Bob Dylan but I’m just gob smacked. A legendary music star with all of the money and the fame. Where goes the writer?”, “Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s not even his art form, yo.” Then, Molara Wood retweeted, in apparent endorsement: “Haruki Murakami did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Ngungi Wa’Thiongo did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bob Dylan did.”, “I like Bob Dylan’s music (though his politics). But there are so few meaningful opportunities for literary writers to get shine. It’s wack”. And when a twitter conversation went:
“What are good topics to speak about on a first date?”
“The absurdity of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and if anything in the world actually means anything anymore.”,
Molara Wood, retweeted.
Ainehi Edoro, Assistant Professor at Marquette University and Curator of Brittle paper, channeled her inner Igbo to express her disapproval: “Bob Dylan kwa?”, then, reverted to English for an elaborate follow up: “Looks like the Nobel Prize Committee keeps upping their capacity to be underwhelming in their literature selection.”
In elaborating disappointment, Nnamdi Ayandu made Ainhehi’s disenchantment look tame. Ayandu, a Nigerian science fiction author, appears to have tasked his powers of imagination in a series of satirical tweets, analogies to help the Swedish Committee put their choice in perspective. He started with: “I don’t see why the Nobel Prize for Medicine shouldn’t go to Doctor Iguodo next year. I don’t see why..”, then: “Nobel Prize for Peace should go to Peace Mass Transit next year. Why? Man write Peace on top bus. Logic of Dylan.”, still then: “They should give an Oscar to that girl that said ‘Oh Jerry’ in that MTN advert that year. Logic of Dylan.” Ayandu ended his tweet-vent: “In the end, Literature did not get a Nobel prize this year” And when Oris Aigbokhaevbolo – Critic, Essayist – queried: “If a writer sets his novel to music, will the Grammys give him their Album of the Year award? Asking for a #NobelPrize friend.”, Ayandu claimed identity as the #NobelPrize friend. Speaking of Oris…
Where you seek a match, maybe even surpass, of Ayandu’s disappointment, you will find Oris. After recommending that the Nobel Committee delete its twitter account, Oris set to searching the internet, for every article, long essay, commentary, tweet, sneeze – anything – to show that Dylan was the poorest decision the Swedes had made in their 105-year history, and then, posted links to unearthed materials. Sometimes, the links came with commentary: “The entire argument against Bob Dylan’s #NobelPrize in one short piece”, Oris commended The NewYork Times for their piece – Why Bob Dylan shouldn’t have gotten a Nobel. When The NewYorker suggested: “Let’s celebrate the Bob Dylan Nobel Win”, Oris responded: “No.” Sometimes the commentaries came without links to articles: “They surprise us every year man. Munro? Fo? Modiano? even Herta Müller.”, “These Swedes are crazy #NobelPrize”. Apparently too distraught to sleep (“This darn Bob Dylan #NobelPrize has kept me up. I must really be pissed. Hint: I am.”), Oris, with elvish speed, penned an essay, adding to the voices against Dylan’s win: “Playing Games: Between the NLNG Prize and Bob Dylan’s Wrongful Nobel Win”.
Then, dusk met October 13, dawn greeted October 14 and the literary community evolved into indignant feminists, because, a woman’s place is not in the Kitchen, Living room, and Other Room, contrary to presidential beliefs.
Post image by Archives Foundation via Flickr
About the Author:
Olaoluwa is a graduate Student at the New York University, School of Law. If you can’t find her on the streets of Manhattan, check the library. She may be reading or writing, or, most likely, doing both. Otherwise, she is tucked away making life-defining choices: Beer or Red wine, E-books or Paper-print. She typically tweets her final answers on @lalspeaks or blogs about them at www.olaoluwaoni.blogspot.com