SUNBURY — Thursday’s surprising announcement that singer-songwriter Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature marked the end of a 20 year quest for a Virginia professor. Gordon Ball, visiting professor of English at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, is being credited with first nominating Dylan for the prize in 1996.
In an interview with WKOK, Ball said he was first contacted by poet Allen Ginsberg’s office about writing the nomination, “His office got a query from two admirers in Norway, asking if the office could find someone who would make a nomination of Dylan for the prize.”
Since then, Ball has written at least 12 letters making the case that Dylan’s poetry can stand apart from his music, “You find his lyrics in academic textbooks. They are rich in possibility of multiple interpretation. They use surprise. They are memorable. Probably more lines of Dylan have become part of our vocabulary, then lines from any other living poet, I’m guessing.”
The traditional standards for a Nobel Prize in Literature require that a work contain idealism and benefit humanity, “One of the things I lay out again and again is his idealism which is striking if you just consider his work that is associated with the civil rights movement alone, Blowing in the Wind.”
Ball said it isn’t hard to make the case for Dylan’s impact on the world, “I would say many people around the world would say he has changed their lives for the better and brought them joy and delight and stirred their imagination.”
Ball said awarding Dylan the Nobel Prize could change our definition of literature, “I hope that this decision, this is something I hoped for all along, would help expand our awareness of what literature is or can be.”
Ball said he thought it was unlikely Dylan would win and Thursday’s announcement was “deeply gratifying.” You can listen to our entire interview with professor Ball below.