The Nobel Committee for Literature touched off a furious debate Thursday by awarding its prize to Bob Dylan, the first time in its 115-year history that the prestigious award has gone to a songwriter.
Mr. Dylan, 75, known for 1960s-era folk anthems such as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the committee said in Stockholm.
“If you want to start listening or reading, you may start with ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ the album from 1966. You’ve got many classics. It’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and putting together refrains, and his pictorial thinking,” said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize.
The decision to honor a pop singer instead of a novelist was cheered by Mr. Dylan’s legion of fans but criticized by others who said the committee had cheapened its brand by equating pop music lyrics with serious literature.
“I’m a Dylan fan, but this is an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies,” Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, author of “Trainspotting,” said on Twitter.
U.K. Telegraph historian Tim Stanley accused the committee of attempting to “please the crowd” in a column headlined, “A world that gives Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize is a world that nominates Trump for president.”
Others pointed out that the committee never honored literary lions such as Anton Chekhov, Henry James, Henrik Ibsen, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Arthur Miller, George Orwell or Virginia Woolf.
Modern authors often mentioned as possible Nobel laureates but yet to be recognized include Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Anne Tyler.
The pick drew no shortage of sarcastic responses on social media.
“I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard,” said Gary Shteyngart, author of “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.”
Novelist Tim Federle said: “Philip Roth Wins Best Folk Album.”
Quipped Ben Stanley, lecturer at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, Poland: “Rumour has it that Van Morrison was nailed on for the Nobel Chemistry Prize until some actual chemists sneaked under the radar.”
Author Jodi Picoult said she was “happy for Bob Dylan,” adding, #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?
Meanwhile, Ms. Oates called his choice “inspiring & original,” while Mr. Rushdie compared Mr. Dylan’s work to that of poets.
“From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice,” said Mr. Rushdie.
President Obama offered kudos from his presidential Twitter account: “Congratulations to one of my favorite poets, Bob Dylan, on a well-deserved Nobel.”
Celebrities including Mia Farrow and Monica Lewinsky also congratulated Mr. Dylan.
“This is so deserved. He is the poet laureate of my generation,” actor James Woods said in a tweet.
In its biographical note, the committee pointed out that the Minnesota-born Mr. Dylan also has published books, most of which are collections of his lyrics, and praised his artistic versatility.
“Dylan has recorded a large number of albums revolving around topics such as: the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love,” said the committee. “The lyrics have continuously been published in new editions, under the title Lyrics. As an artist, he is strikingly versatile; he has been active as painter, actor and scriptwriter.”
The first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993, Mr. Dylan has been under consideration for years as an honoree.
Still, the choice was immediately compared to other controversial selections, most recently that of Mr. Obama, who won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just nine months after taking office in what was widely viewed as a rebuke to his predecessor, President George W. Bush.