What do you get when you cross a tambourine man tangled up in blue as a simple twist of fate in a hurricane?
Simple: a sentence that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but references four of the hundreds of songs Bob Dylan has written over the decades, which for some, is a reason to celebrate.
After being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this month by The Swedish Academy, Dylan and his works are to be celebrated by ASU students and staff Wednesday at the “Bringing It All Back: Bob Dylan Nobel Prize Celebration 2016” event.
Created by professor of English Elizabeth Horan, the event will feature people who wish to perform or recite some of Dylan’s works. The event will also include refreshments and is open for those who do not wish to perform, but still want to take part in celebrating the recent award of the singer/songwriter.
Horan is also one of two Masters of Ceremonies for the event and said that an event celebrating the Nobel Prize in Literature is one she had wanted to put on for some time, but she knew it would have to be at the right time for the right winner.
“The last time someone won the prize that I got this excited for was Mario Vargas Llosa," she said. "Then I thought, 'I’m not going to be able to get enough people to do (an event).' But then I thought, ‘You know, Bob Dylan is someone that we could just have a good celebration…’”
Dylan is the first U.S. citizen to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 23 years. The last one was awarded to author Toni Morrison.
Along with being a professor of English, one of Horan’s many interests is the study of Nobel Laureates (people who have won the Nobel Prize before and the Nobel Prize system). Usually during the fall, she offers a class on recent Nobel Laureates in Literature. One of the first assignments students get to do in the class is predict who will win the Nobel Prize that year.
“They have two papers,” Horan said. “The first one is to predict who will win … their next paper is, ‘Who should win in 20 years?’ So who in their generation should win (the Nobel Prize)?”
In her class, she had instances when students predicted that Dylan would be the winner of the Nobel Prize. She said that the student who was probably most passionate about this was Billy Cioffi, an ASU alum who graduated in 2015 with a masters degree in English at 66 years old.
A lifelong musician and writer, Cioffi has been playing professionally since he was 14 and has his own band called The Monte Carlos. When taking Horan’s Nobel Laureates class, he suggested that Dylan would win the prize and proceeded to defend his case to those who didn’t support his idea.
“This is 6 years ago or 7 years ago, we had to do a poll about who would be the winner of the Nobel Prize, and I suggested Bob Dylan," Cioffi said. "And about half the class said, 'Oh no, that’s impossible.'”
He went on to say that The Swedish Academy has always had their eye on Dylan as a recipient of the prize, but his odds were never very high. For Cioffi, however, he always thought the odds of Dylan winning were higher than anyone else gave him credit for.
“There’s always been this thing, ‘Is Bob Dylan a poet? Blah, blah, blah…’ No matter how you cut it, Bob Dylan is important," he said. "My analogy is that he’s like Picasso. You don’t have to like him, but if you’re an art student, you have to deal with him."
Cioffi will be the other Master of Ceremony for the event Wednesday. He said this event is important for the vast music community that surrounds the Tempe campus and for the literary department as well.
“I think that many of (the literary department faculty), I won't say all of them, but many of them understand the importance of the Dylan literary thing," Cioffi said. "I think that many of the faculty would argue back and forth about his work. I’m sure there’s some who don’t feel he deserves the Nobel Prize, but it’s about the debate as well.”
Daniel Mills, a junior secondary education English major at ASU, falls under the category of those who don’t support the choice to award Dylan the prize and has voiced his opinions to Horan in class.
“While I do enjoy Bob Dylan and his music, I was a little upset, a little salty because … I feel like he doesn’t fit into the category of the type of person who should’ve won the award,” Mills said.
Over the course of its history, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded 109 times since 1901, with work varying between genres like novelists, poets, essay writers and songwriters, according to Nobelprize.org. Just because there is a winner doesn’t mean that people always agree with who is chosen, but it always stirs a discussion.
“Both sides are valid, I feel,” Mills said. “I’m just playing devil's advocate, you know? If you replaced Bob Dylan with a different artist, a lot more people would be, ‘Oh no, no, no — you can’t win this. This doesn’t count as literature.’ So where do we draw the line?”
Regardless of whether or not people agree with Bob Dylan receiving the award, Wednesday’s event will celebrate his receiving it and give the community a chance to talk about there views on the matter. It will also be a chance to hear how Dylan’s songs have impacted the ASU community and people’s interpretations of one of the industry's most famous lyricists.
The event will be held on Wednesday from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Language and Literature Building on Tempe campus, room 316. For more information on the event and to let them know you’ll be attending, click here.
For a list of Bob Dylan’s songs and albums, click here.
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