Bob Dylan critic and scholar Michael Gray was recently awarded the title Doctor of Letters from the University of York (U.K.). Below is the official press release:
Pioneer of Bob Dylan Studies receives Higher Doctorate
JAN 23: The University of York (UK) today confers the degree of Doctor of Letters upon Michael Gray, the British independent scholar whose 1972 book Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan was the first critical study of the work of the American icon.
50 years after Gray was an undergraduate at York, he has earned his D.Litt. for published work rather than for an unpublished thesis.
It has been awarded by the Department of English and Related Literature for Gray’s Song & Dance Man III, published by Cassell Academic (London, 1999) and Continuum (New York, 2000), a 630,000-word magnum opus which took Gray most of the 1990s to write.
The university’s regulations state that higher doctorates like the D.Litt. “may be conferred upon people who in the judgement of the University have distinguished themselves by their substantial and original contributions to the advancement of learning.”
Michael Gray has always worked outside of academic institutions, though he was a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2005, has given guest lectures at many American and European colleges including Stanford, and has been a keynote speaker at academic conferences on Dylan’s work, including at Liverpool, Bristol and Vienna.
The academic study of Bob Dylan’s work has become a large and widespread field on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, yielding sizeable numbers of student dissertations and postgraduate theses. The American database Academic Search Complete lists well over 16,300 articles about Dylan’s albums and songs.
Gray, now 68, works from his home in Southwest France where he lives with his wife, the food writer Sarah Beattie, and a Griffon Nivernais dog named Mavis. He plans more talks for September in Europe and October in the USA.
Gray was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about receiving this honor.
How did you find out about being awarded this title? Can you explain what it means, exactly?
About four years ago I learnt from a professor emeritus in Australia, whom I’d known since I was a child and he was a teenager, that it was possible to earn a doctorate for published work as well as from an unpublished thesis, but that normally one would apply and submit the published work in question to one’s original alma mater. So in the fullness of time I approached the English Department at the University of York, found that there was a professor who was already familiar with, and an enthusiast for, my work and in the fullness of further time I submitted the necessary three hardback copies of Song & Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan, along with copious amounts of supportive information, and eventually they sent out the books for peer review from distinguished academics who themselves knew a good deal about Dylan’s work – and finally their reports were forwarded to the University Senate, which agreed the conferral of a D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters in English), which is a Higher Doctorate (including higher than a Ph.D) in the U.K. and many other countries (though not in the U.S.). As the press release says, a D.Litt. is conferred for “substantial and original contributions to the advancement of learning.” As you can imagine, I am indeed honoured that my work has been regarded so highly by one of the best English Departments in one of the best universities in Britain – especially since I have always worked independently of any college faculty. I was thrilled to learn that I was going to get it. The ceremony took place at the university’s Central Hall on January 23rd.
Where are your archives housed now?
My Bob Dylan archive was acquired, fittingly in my opinion, by the University of Minnesota a couple of years ago; my Blind Willie McTell research papers are held – again, fittingly – by Georgia Southern University in Statesboro GA, the town Willie grew up in.
Official website: Michael Gray – Writer. Gray will be on the U.S. lecture circuit in October.
Of the dozens of Dylan Internet sites … Expecting Rain … and the zoomdune.com Bob Dylan blog by Harold Lepidus are the best places for up-to-the-minute Dylan news – David Kinney, “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.” (Simon & Schuster, 2014)
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