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Editorial: Dylan's Nobel win signals broader perspective taking root in prize selection

U.S. singer-songwriter Bob Dylan's winning of the Nobel Prize in literature is an epoch-making event in the history of the award.

This is the first time that a musician has won the Nobel Prize in literature. People in the world have taken the news with both joy and perplexity. Although the process of selecting winners cannot be disclosed until 50 years after the event, Dylan's winning of the prize apparently highlights the expansion of the concept of literature.

The Swedish Academy said it has decided to award the prize to Dylan for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." Generally speaking, poets have been highly appreciated in Western Europe. The first Nobel Prize in literature went to a French poet.

As such, awarding the Nobel Prize in literature to Dylan shows that the prize has returned to its starting point. Mentioning Homer and Sappho, the Swedish Academy said, "They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it's the same way for Bob Dylan."

Dylan won enthusiastic support from young people in the early 1960s against the backdrop of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. He reportedly came up with his stage name as he respected Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet.

His song, "Blowin' in the Wind," partly reads, "...how many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned?" The work, which has been accepted widely as an anti-war song, underscores the importance of keeping asking questions without offering easy answers.

He became well known as the standard-bearer of protest songs. Still, his lyrics can be interpreted in various ways, and are deep and broad. Initially, critics pointed out that questions he asked in his songs were vague.

Dylan has had a strong influence on not only European and American musicians but also Japanese musicians.

"What I'm today is thanks to Bob Dylan," said musician Takuro Yoshida, who had numerous hits in the 1970s.

Dylan, who has reflected various words and phrases, including those from the Bible, in his lyrics and developed a new literary world, was praised by the academy as "a great poet in the English speaking tradition."

The selection of Dylan as the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 2016 suggests changes in the trends behind winner selections, which have placed excessive emphasis on European literary figures. Great U.S. writers have been named as possible winners of the prize. In 2013, Canadian author Alice Munro won the prize.

This suggests that the Swedish Academy put a new spin on Alfred Nobel's words, "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."

Dylan made his debut in the age when people were struggling to reform society. His constant efforts to create new songs for the 54 years since then have sent a strong message to people nowadays underscoring the need for reform.

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