American studies program holds Bob Dylan essay contest

Oct. 27, 2016, 12:27 a.m.

Amid the controversy surrounding Bob Dylan’s selection as the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Stanford’s American studies program is giving students the chance to voice their opinions by sponsoring an essay contest on “the significance of Bob Dylan.”

Open to any Stanford student, undergraduate or graduate, the contest is running until Jan. 10, 2017. The winner will be awarded $500 as well as a copy of the book “Bob Dylan, The Lyrics: 1961-2012,” which honorable mentions will also receive.

According to Shelley Fisher Fishkin, professor and director of American studies, the opportunity to hear a variety of student perspectives on Bob Dylan and his impact on society is an exciting one. Fishkin’s decision to hold the contest occurred right after hearing that Dylan had won the prize.

“I was surprised to hear the news, but I was also really curious to hear what Stanford students had to say about it,” Fishkin said. “His impact on individuals and communities in both the U.S. and beyond is not something that we’re normally asked to think about, and I have great faith in the ability of Stanford students to come up with interesting things to say.”

Some students are looking forward to the array of possibilities that this contest opens up, as well as the chance to explore a topic not usually discussed within an academic setting.

“There are a lot of various routes that you could take; it depends on what lens you’re going to focus on,” Kyle Robinson ’18 said. “I think that having an essay contest on Bob Dylan is really cool, just because I think it’s interesting to take a huge component of pop culture and then relate that to a more literary or academic perspective.”

Fishkin’s intentions for creating the contest echo this sentiment of analyzing a “cultural phenomenon” outside the context of a class.

“I have been really, really pleased by the kinds of thinking and writing that Stanford students are capable of, and asking them to reflect on something that has not yet been a part of their academic menu is appealing to me,” she said.

Contest judge and professor emeritus of American studies Richard Gillam, who incorporated Dylan’s music into an interdisciplinary seminar that he taught during his time at Stanford on the 1960s, hopes that students will enjoy this unorthodox intellectual experience.

“For me, hearing Dylan is to experience history brought alive, to find serious ideas seriously engaged,” he wrote to The Daily. “My hope, then, is that anyone choosing to write on Dylan will find the intellectual and personal payoff to be as rewarding as I have during my own years of engagement with his music.”

As for assessing the essays, the judges note that they are not looking for anything in particular. In fact, they welcome any potential opposition to the importance of Dylan’s work.

“In the end, and speaking only for myself, I think that the best or stand-out essay will likewise speak for itself – I will know it when I read it,” he wrote to The Daily.

Entries are to be no longer than 1,500 words and submitted by 5 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2017. The essays, as well as any questions, should be sent to rmeisels ‘at’


Contact Lisa Wang at lisaw20 ‘at’

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