Bob Dylan, regarded as the voice of a generation for his songs from the 1960s onward, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature in a surprise decision that made him the only singer-songwriter to win the award.
The 75-year-old Dylan, who won the prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” finds himself in the company of Winston Churchill, Thomas Mann and Rudyard Kipling as Nobel literature laureates.
Awarding the 8 million Swedish crown ($928,000) prize, the Swedish Academy said: “Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound.”
The announcement was met with gasps in Stockholm’s stately Royal Academy hall, followed by some laughter.
Dylan’s songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Like a Rolling Stone” captured the spirit of a generation’s rebellion, dissent and independence.
More than 50 years later, Dylan is still writing songs and almost continuously on tour, performing his lyrics in a sometimes rasping voice that has been ridiculed by detractors.
For many, his lyrics have resonated for decades.
“Blowin’ in the Wind”, written in 1962, was considered one of the most eloquent folk songs of all time. “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, in which Dylan told Americans “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” was an anthem of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests.
Swedish Academy member Per Wastberg said: “He is probably the greatest living poet.”
Asked if he thought Dylan’s Nobel lecture, traditionally given by the laureate in Stockholm later in the year, would be a concert, replied: “Let’s hope so.”
“IF DYLAN’S A POET, I’M A BASKETBALL PLAYER”
Over the years, not everyone has agreed that Dylan was a poet of the first order. U.S. novelist Norman Mailer countered: “If Dylan’s a poet, I’m a basketball player.”
Some authors criticized the committee’s decision to honour a songwriter with an award normally bestowed on a novelist, playwright or poet.
Novelist Jodi Picoult, the author of more than two dozen novels including many bestsellers, joked on Twitter, “I’m happy for Bob Dylan. #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinAGrammy?”
But Salman Rushdie, the author of novels including “The Satanic Verses” and “Shalimar the Clown,” was quick to praise the decision, saying it followed centuries of literary tradition stretching from classical Greece to modern India.
“From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice,” Rushdie said on Twitter.
Dylan has been an enigmatic figure. He went into seclusion for months after a motorcycle crash in 1966, leading to stories that he had cracked under the pressure of his new celebrity.
He was born into a Jewish family but in the late 1970s converted to Christianity and later said he followed no organised religion. At another point in his life, Dylan took up boxing.
Dylan is the first American to win the award since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.
His spokesman, Elliott Mintz, did not immediately comment. Dylan was due to give a concert in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.
Dylan has toured almost continuously since 1988, remaining true to the credo he expressed in “Forever Young,” a hit track from his 1974 album, “Planet Waves.”
Literature was the last of this year’s Nobel prizes to be awarded. The prizes are named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.