11 Dec 2016

It's all right: Dylan accepts Nobel in absentia

7:46 pm on 11 December 2016

Nobel laureate Bob Dylan has thanked the Swedish academy for giving him its award for literature, which he described as about as likely as "standing on the moon".

US singer Patti Smith performs "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by absent literature prize winner Bob Dylan, at the ceremony in Stockholm.

American singer-songwriter Patti Smith performed one of her compatriot's songs in his place at today's award ceremony. Photo: AFP

The American singer and songwriter did not attend the award ceremony and banquet in Stockholm on Saturday (Sunday NZT), but did send a speech.

"I'm sorry I can't be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honoured to be receiving such a prestigious prize," Dylan said in the message read by Azita Raji, the US ambassador to Sweden, at the ceremony.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Photo: Supplied

He also expressed his huge surprise at receiving the award.

"If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I'd have about the same odds as standing on the moon," he said.

The media-shy Dylan finally accepted the 8 million Swedish krona ($NZ1.22m) prize for literature, after frustrating the award-giving academy with weeks of silence following the announcement of the award on 13 October.

His expected absence at this weekend's festivities has been widely debated in Sweden in recent weeks, where the Nobel prize is a huge source of pride. One member of the academy had accused Dylan of being "arrogant" and "rude" when the singer at first remained silent after the award was announced.

In his place, American singer Patti Smith performed Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". A nervous Smith forgot the lyrics and had to start over but still received emphatic applause.

While Dylan was absent, all of the other laureates, which included Japan's Yoshinori Ohsumi for medicine and Britain's Duncan Haldane for physics, accepted a medal and a diploma from the hand of Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf before attending the banquet, at Stockholm's City Hall, for about 1300 people.

In a Nordic country priding itself on its modernity, the banquet is a vestige of old-world luxury that every year brings together royalty and the powerful in politics and business with some of the world's top scientific minds. The dress code is white tie and tails for men and gowns for women.

The prize was introduced in 1901 according to the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor and industrialist, five years after his death in 1896.

The prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and economic science are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Nobel Peace Prize - is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

Colombia's Santos dedicates award to conflict's victims

This year's peace prize was won by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who signed an accord with rebel group FARC to end a 52-year civil war.

Negotiating the deal took six years, and it then had to be redrafted after being rejected by the Colombian people in a referendum.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Santos said he once fought against FARC with determination, but it was foolish to believe the elimination of the other party was the only way to end a conflict.

He said a final victory by force, when non-violent alternatives existed, was nothing but the defeat of the human spirit.

Mr Santas dedicated his award to the victims of the conflict.

- Reuters / BBC / RNZ

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs