Penn lecturer to teach course on Bob Dylan

Earlier this month, iconic musician Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan’s silence since has been deemed ill-mannered, and some people are even questioning if he’ll attend the award ceremony in Sweden in December.

Others, like Anthony DeCurtis, chalk up Dylan’s lack of response to be typical of the often-aloof artist.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” says DeCurtis, a distinguished lecturer of creative writing in Penn’s Department of English. “I saw him perform about two days after the award was announced. He never one time mentioned it on stage. It’s just not something he would do.”

DeCurtis has been writing about Dylan and his music for 35 years, most notably in The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine. He’s been listening to Dylan for even longer—since he was 13 years old.

“I’m 65, so that’s more than 50 years,” DeCurtis says. “Dylan is a hugely important figure. I feel that he informs so much of what I think about and what I do.”

Next semester, in addition to his “Advanced Writing Projects in Popular Culture” class, DeCurtis will teach a “Visions of Dylan” course, for both “Dylan obsessives,” as he calls them, and newbies alike.

Students in the seminar, which will be held at Kelly Writers House, will listen to Dylan’s music, watch movies about him, and hear from about 10 guest speakers, including musicians and writers inspired by his high-quality craft.

“I always feel like there’s something to learn from his work,” DeCurtis says. “The endless enrichment that his songs have given me is something I’d like to share.”

Although committed to getting granular when necessary, such as dissecting a song line by line, DeCurtis is set on studying the big picture of Dylan’s influence.

“The reason we listen to these people or read their books is not just to learn something about songs or novels or literature,” DeCurtis explains. “It’s really to learn about ourselves and the world. I think Dylan offers that opportunity in a big way. We’ll get the big picture of the sudden impact these songs have had on the world and other artists over time.”

DeCurtis says the course will be improvisatory, as is expected when studying Dylan.

“I don’t think we’re going to start with the first Dylan album or where he was born,” DeCurtis says. “We’ll just start with some interesting stuff, then follow our own inclinations. We’ll look at the different aspects of his career, the types of songs he wrote, and consider the different interests that the various people in the class might have. We’ll make it up as we go along. I hope that people will find that exciting.

“There’s a great Dylan line in ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,’ that says, ‘Take what you have gathered from coincidence,’” DeCurtis adds. “In a sense, that can be the motto of the class.”

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