John Burnside at the British Library

The NS's nature columnist is named writer in residence.

The New Statesman is delighted by the news that our nature columnist, the poet and novelist John Burnside, will be one of two recipients of the 2013 Eccles British Library Writer in Residence Award (the other is the historian Andrea Wulf). Burnside and Wulf will be awarded £20,000 each; their residencies will begin in January of next year.

Burnside will use his time at the Eccles Centre for American Studies to research a novel based loosely on Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. The narrative will follow a brother and sister from their 1930s childhood in the American South through the rest of the "American century".

The judges for the Award were Professor Richard Carwardine, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, novelist Tracy Chevalier, Professor Philip Davies, Director of the Eccles Centre, Catherine Eccles, literary scout and granddaughter of David and Mary Eccles who endowed the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the Library in 1991, and Carole Holden, Head of the British Library's Americas and Australasian collections. Carwardine said of this year’s winners:  "As they bring their formidable and complementary talents to their roles as writers in residence at the British Library, we are sure Andrea Wulf and John Burnside will relish the creative stimulus of working amongst its exceptional holdings."

We look forward, in particular, to seeing the fruits of Burnside's research.

Readers at the British Library in London (Photograph: Getty Images)
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How the radio stations reacted to Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize

For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature inspired a bewildering gamut of radio responses. At first, proof of his talent was abundantly forthcoming, Andy Kershaw yelling down the line for World at One from a motorway services on the M6 within ­moments of the announcement. (“I can’t understand why they didn’t give this to him 41 years ago!”)

However, a full six days after Talk Radio excitedly reported the event on its home page (“a pivotal part of the cultural revolution of the 1960s”), the online feature has yet to attract a single comment. That’s zero talk. For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat, though Heart FM firmly quoted the chair of the English faculty at Oxford (“The Tennyson of our time”), and pencil-suckingly dissected lyrics (“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’/ Up the road . . .”).

Is it poetry? Is it literature? You could tell it was doing everybody’s head in. But when, on Radio 4’s Front Row, Billy Bragg praised Dylan for “bringing a literary and poetic thread into pop music”, the argument sounded terribly old.

The whole battle about Dylan being as great a poet as Tennyson is a hangover from an ancient battle, from a time when it actually had to be pointed out that this pop-music stuff can be brilliant and clever. A time when boring people battled for respect and prestige for an obvious genius. Over on Radio 2, Mark Goodier cheerfully played “Tangled Up in Blue” (“Major, major prize for Bob today. If that isn’t a decent excuse to play a song, I don’t know what is”). But by Sunday, on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, the gloves were off and guests were declaring that they couldn’t stand Dylan’s voice (cliché, pathetic).

By Monday Simon Armitage was saying that Dylan’s lyrics had no more sophistication than something composed by a child. Is it poetry? Is it literature? Well, it kind of is. But it kind of isn’t. And it doesn’t matter very much, except to the likes of Dylan – and only a long, long time ago. Now he hardly requires the approbation. The Nobel Committee has given the prize to the one writer in the world who doesn’t need it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood