Foreign dispatches

How the American press would cover Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize if he was from a different country

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Bob Dylan, whose surreal folk tales deal with essentially American themes like love, haberdashery, and riding a train, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dylan, 75, is the first American to win the Nobel Prize since compatriot Toni Morrison in 1993. His win bolsters the literary bona fides of the United States, which most global readers probably associate with either the Puritanical works of Nathaniel Hawthorne or any number of erotic novels about vampires.

Boosters of Dylan—whose sizable fan base resides mostly in the suburban, coastal regions, as well as the frosty industrial metropolis of Minneapolis—view the win as a validation of the troubadour’s work.

The prize should also encourage American artists, who feel their country’s literary accomplishments are often overshadowed by their nation’s prowess in economics, cheeseburger production, and pornography.

While Dylan enjoyed great popularity among the university-educated elite in his native land, the award promises to expose Dylan’s prolific, mystifying bibliography—which includes yarns about drug experimentation, weather events, and boxcar transit—to a wider, non-Anglophone audience.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment for both Mr. Dylan and for the United States,” said James Smith, a professor of cultural studies at American University, a university in America. “Dylan’s tales plumb the depths of the American psyche, and his victory is really a victory for the people of our homeland.”

The country’s divisive outgoing leader, President Barack Obama, issued a statement via the state’s propaganda organ to congratulate Dylan on his award. U.N. peacekeepers hope the win could also help unite a fractured nation, which is embroiled in a heated election between the wife of a former chief-of-state and an insurgent, ethno-nationalist real estate mogul.

The country also saw its national ego bruised following an embarrassing incident by three American swimmers at the Olympics this summer in Rio de Janeiro.

While Dylan is not known in his country as a dissident or political activist, his work often addresses injustices inflicted by the American government (“Masters of War’”) and foreign entities (“Girl from the North Country”). Dylan is also often credited with being among the first to anticipate the evils and danger of Isis.

Dylan’s best-known works, however, draw from American traditions like hobo travel, drinking coffee, and wanting to hear tambourine music. Playing the guitar (a stringed instrument popular in American entertainment) or the harmonica (a reed favored by America’s sizable prison population), Dylan’s tales often feature an unnamed narrator who hallucinates clowns.

And while his exotic writing eludes interpretation—“Everybody must get stoned,” Dylan once wrote, in a missive that confounds scholars and biographers to this day—his lyrical flourishes still resounded deep with both the bohemian American underclass and the nation’s elite editors of music magazines.

Indeed, Dylan’s influence on his compatriots cannot be understated. Dylan arose during a tumultuous era of American writing, when most songs dealt with either surfboards or dying in a car crash. He would go on to inspire works by foundational American artists like Jimi Hendrix, Garth Brooks, and Alvin & the Chipmunks.

It is unclear whether this victory represents a shift in the preferences of the Swedish Nobel Prize committee, which has tended to eschew writers whose work centers mainly on rainfall and the experience of riding a camel.

Dylan’s win may open the door to greater international recognition of similar chroniclers of the American experience, like Tom Petty, John “Cougar” Mellencamp, and Ray Romano.

Until then, however, Americans will have to satisfy themselves with this rare recognition of a writer from the United States. Cheers for Mr. Dylan went up on the chaotic social media network Twitter in cities as distant and diverse as Brooklyn, New York; Berkeley, California; and Austin, Texas—American towns separated by thousands of miles of desert and pavement, but not by their appreciation of Mr. Dylan’s work.

“I wanted to capture America, and what it meant to be American,” Mr. Dylan once said in an interview with the embattled American journalist Jonah Lehrer. “I hope I’ve done that.”

“I hope I’ve done America proud, as an American, in America.”