STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN— US music legend Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday, the first songwriter to win the prestigious award in a decision that stunned prize watchers.
Dylan, 75, was honored “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” the Swedish Academy said.
The choice was met by gasps and a long round of applause from journalists attending the prize announcement. The folk singer has been mentioned in Nobel speculation in past years, but was never seen as a serious contender.
The Academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius said Dylan’s songs were “poetry for the ears.”
“Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound,” it wrote in biographical notes about the famously private singer.
Last year, the prize went to Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich, for her documentary-style narratives based on witness testimonies.
Dylan will take home the eight million kronor ($906,000 or 822,000 euros) prize sum.
The Nobel is the latest accolade for a singer who has come a long way from his humble beginnings as Robert Allen Zimmerman, born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, who taught himself to play the harmonica, guitar and piano.
Captivated by the music of folksinger Woody Guthrie, Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan— reportedly after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas—and began performing in local nightclubs.
After dropping out of college he moved to New York in 1960. His first album contained only two original songs, but the 1963 breakthrough “The Freewheelin’Bob Dylan” featured a slew of his own work including the classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Civil rights campaigner
Armed with a harmonica and an acoustic guitar, Dylan confronted social injustice, war and racism, quickly becoming a prominent civil rights campaigner—and recording an astonishing 300 songs in his first three years.
In 1965 Dylan’s first British tour was captured in the classic documentary “Don’t Look Back”—the same year he outraged his folk fans by using an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival on Rhode Island.
The following albums, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde,” won rave reviews, but Dylan’s career was interrupted in 1966 when he was badly injured in a motorcycle accident, and his recording output slowed in the 1970s.
By the early 1980s his music was reflecting the performer’s born-again Christianity, although this was tempered in successive albums, with many fans seeing a resurgence of his explosive early-career talent in the 1990s.
Since the turn of millennium, as well as his regular recording output and touring,Dylan has also found time to host a regular radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, and published a well-received book “Chronicles,” in 2004.
He was the focus of at least two more films, Martin Scorsese’s 2005 “No Direction Home” and “I’m not There” in 2007 starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett.
Over the years Dylan has won 11 Grammy awards, as well as one Golden Globe and even an Oscar in 2001, for best original song “Things have Changed” in the movie “Wonder Boys.”
The literature prize caps the 2016 Nobel season, following more than a week of announcements for the awards for medicine, physics, chemistry, economics and peace, with the latter going to Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to end a half-century war with the FARC rebels.
The 2016 laureates will receive their awards—a gold medal and a diploma—at a formal ceremony in Stockholm as tradition dictates on December 10, the anniversary of the death of prize creator Alfred Nobel.
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