To the Nobel Prize committee:
When I was an exchange student in Sweden during the 1980s, I had a fantastic opportunity to attend the Nobel awards ceremony – and I blew it. I was among the students in my exchange programme who were randomly selected to go, but I got lost on the way to the ceremony.
Even back then, as a dumb kid who knew little about the world, I realized what a big mistake I'd made. Why had I chosen to walk to the ceremony along the unfamiliar streets of Stockholm when I could have easily taken a cab and been there within a matter of minutes? When I got back to the house where I was staying, I felt awful. The family that was hosting me – not even my regular host family, but one that had agreed to put me up for the week I was in Stockholm – did its best to cheer me up.
Knowing that I was an aspiring writer, the mother in the family said: “Well, don't feel too bad. Maybe some day you'll come back to accept the Nobel Prize in Literature.” Those kind words from a virtual stranger obviously made quite an impression on me, since I remember them more than three decades later.
I couldn't help but think back to that time as I read about Bob Dylan's decision not to attend the Nobel awards ceremony on Saturday. Like many people, I was surprised when the Nobel committee selected Dylan for this year's prize in literature. But I understood the thought process: Dylan's music is poetry.
It was an unconventional choice, but it made sense to me. What hasn't made sense is Dylan's seeming indifference to this great honour. At first, he was silent about whether he would even accept the award. Then came the news that he would make it to the award ceremony “if possible”. Then, finally, word came down that he couldn't make it due to “prior commitments”.
(Note to Bob: It's the Nobel awards ceremony. Tell your dentist you can reschedule for the following week.)
I find Dylan's handling of this situation offensive on a couple of different levels. As a writer, I think of all the worthy authors of the printed word the Nobel committee had to pass over in order to make its bold choice. Some of those authors have written important books highlighting the highs and lows of the human condition. For many of them, there could be no higher honour than winning a Nobel prize.
But I also wonder if Dylan realizes what he's doing to the music profession he's spent his lifetime making richer through his awesome talent. By snubbing the committee in this way, I'm guessing that he's made it much more difficult for other musicians and songwriters to be seriously considered for this type of recognition in the future.
Dylan has cultivated a persona of someone who's quirky, someone who goes left when everyone else is going right. Which is fine under most circumstances. In this case, though, some appreciation and humility would have better served him and all of the musicians and lyricists who wish to follow in his footsteps.
I can't profess to speak for all Americans (at this divisive time in our country's history, I'm not sure who could), but I'm embarrassed. As a writer and a lover of music, I hope the Nobel committee will accept my personal apology. A Nobel prize holds a lot more value than this sad story suggests.
Blake Fontenay is an author and playwright who also works full-time in government communications. He is based in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter.