Professor Anne-Marie Mai of Denmark raised a storm in an inkpot last month when she told newspapers that the 68-year-old American singer-songwriter, musician, poet and painter was her choice for the prize. Despite a tradition that forbids academics from talking about their nominations, Mai said, "The time has come to publicly argue for Dylan."
To say that Dylan's date with the Swedish award has been jinxed, would in fact be an understatement. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, the legendary musician has been repeatedly passed over for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was first officially nominated in 1997, and then every year after that.
There have been passionate arguments both for and against Dylan being given Nobel Prize in Literature. No one denies the genius of a man who has penned such timeless classics as 'Blowin' in the Wind', 'Like a Rolling Stone', and 'The Times They Are a-Changin'; what is called into question time and again are his credentials for a literary prize. The 'The Celestial Monochord' blog sums up this argument rather beautifully: "I would have to acknowledge that literature is something you write down on a piece of paper and then pass around for others to read. Dylan has done some of this, but his best work - the work we love him for - is sung. The experience of sitting alone in silence, reading, is the essence of literature, and this isn't where Bob has made his contribution. Picasso didn't win the Nobel Prize for literature either, but not because he didn't 'deserve' it - he just didn't write literature."
But for every one of his detractors, there are many more willing to jump to Dylan's defence. In an eloquent appeal to the Swedish Academy, Professor Mai said Dylan's lyrics are full of 'beauty, restlessness and energy', and this bore comparison with writers such as Pushkin, Baudelaire, Goethe and Keats. According to Gordon Ball, an author and literature professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, who has nominated Dylan every year since 1996: "Poetry and music are linked. And Dylan has helped strengthen that relationship, like the troubadours of old. Dylan a major American bard and minstrel of the 20th century."
While the line "I always knew I was never gonna be one'a them rock n roll singers to win any No-bel prize.... That what they call it? No-bel prize?" ('Hearts on Fire', 1986) attributed to Dylan may return to haunt him yet again, what of the other 2009 nominees who are in the running as well?
According to Ladbrokes, Israeli author Amos Oz appears to be the frontrunner for this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. Interestingly, Oz shares his 3/1 odds with Romanian-born German-speaking Herta Müller. Jostling for space at the top of the Bookmaker's list are Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth, both with 5/1 odds for winning. Next in the list of favourites are Americans Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo (7/1), alongwith Mario Vargas Llosa representing South America. (9/1). Adonis, Assia Djebar and Haruki Murakami, Japan's best-known novelist who has been in the Nobel queue for a while now, are tied with Llosa in forth place and share similar odds. Italian Caludio Magris who had led in early days of the countdown, has since slipped considerably with 12/1 odds.
The only India interest in the Ladbrokes list is Bengali novelist-activist Mahasweta Devi at 50/1 and Salman Rushdie at 80/1.
The Swedish Academy is however known for defying all speculation, and initial bookies' favourite rarely wins. In recent years, there have been some surprise choices, including the 1997 selection of Italian playwright Dario Fo. Oz was the favourite last year too, but was pipped to the post by Frenchman Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.
The academy has selected the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature since 1901, in line with the wishes of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who established the prizes in his 1895 will. Nominations for the prize are invited every year from over 300 literature professors, members of the Swedish Academy and representatives of writers' associations, which is then voted on by a committee. Potential winners are never discussed and even nominations are kept secret for 50 years.
Each Nobel Prize includes a $1.4 million purse, a gold medal and a diploma. The awards are handed out December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death in 1896. (with inputs from Agencies)