RI Artscape: Harvard Professor Hails Dylan's Nobel Prize

Dec 29, 2016

Earlier this month, the Swedish Academy awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan. While not quite as shocking as when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, the award still caused some controversy among those critics who felt it was artistically unjustified. They said the singer-songwriter known for such influential songs as “Blowing in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone” was not creating literature.

For this month’s Artscape, RIPR’s Chuck Hinman gets some perspective on the award from Harvard classics professor Richard Thomas, who also teaches a seminar on Dylan.


Richard Thomas is the George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at Harvard University. His interest in Bob Dylan dates back to his youth in New Zealand and it has grown and deepened along with his life's work in studying and teaching the classics of Greek and Roman antiquity. Thomas expounds on the intersection of these two interests in his article The Streets of Rome: The Classical Dylan. Thomas has a new book coming out, ​Why Dylan Matters, ​scheduled for publication November 2017.

In a longer interview below, he discusses the various elements of Dylan's art, especially the performance aspect of it, where Dylan reinterprets his own compositions and challenges his audience to do the same. As Thomas puts it, "He's interested in the performance of the moment, and you have to meet him there."