Bob Dylan: The Story Behind His Nobel Prize in Literature

Teachers: The story below is at the high-beginning level. At the bottom of this page, you will also find the story in a Word document and in a pdf. Permission is granted to reproduce for classroom use. For a lesson plan for the Bob Dylan song “Make You Feel My Love,” please see the Lesson Plans page.

guitar and harmonica

Lyrics or Literature?

In 2016, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. A lot of people were surprised when they heard Bob Dylan was the winner. In the past, all the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature were people who wrote novels, short stories, plays, or poetry. Bob Dylan writes songs.

Bob Dylan was surprised, too. When he started writing songs as a teenager, he thought, “Maybe someday I’ll sing my songs in coffee houses or bars. Maybe later I’ll sing my songs in concert halls.” Sometimes, when he was dreaming really big, he imagined making a record and then hearing his songs on the radio. That was the big prize in his mind.

All of Bob Dylan’s dreams came true: He sang his songs in coffee houses and bars. He sang in concert halls all around the world. He even got “the big prize”–he made records and heard his songs on the radio. Then, when he was 75 years old, he got a prize he had never dreamed of: the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Bob Dylan often asks himself questions about his songs. For example, he asks himself, “Who are the best musicians for these songs? Is this song in the right key?” But he never once asked himself, “Are my songs literature?”

The Nobel Prize Committee asked that question and then gave the world this answer: Yes.

The information in this story is from Bob Dylan’s thank-you speech, read at the Nobel Prize ceremony. The entire speech is at

lyrics-or-literature.docx          lyrics-or-literature.pdf

Story: Copyright © 2016 Sandra Heyer. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reproduce for classroom use.

Photo: Copyright © William Brodt | Reprinted with permission.