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Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Literature Prize For 'New Poetic Expressions'

  • RFE/RL

The iconic American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature.

Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, announced the prestigious award in Stockholm on October 13 by crediting Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

The Nobel Prize in literature is awarded for a lifetime of writing rather than a single work, with the Swedish Academy saying it was for "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."

Dylan is the first author known primarily as a songwriter to win the award.

The announcement surprised many because Dylan’s writing mostly falls outside the field of novels, poetry, and short stories.

But Danius described Dylan as "a great sampler" and compared the timelessness of his song lyrics to the works of the ancient Greek lyrical poets Homer and Sappho.

"They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it's the same way for Bob Dylan," Danius said. "We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it."

Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, as Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941 and raised in the small northern Minnesota town of Hibbing -- the son of a Jewish hardware-store owner there.

He began his musical career in 1959 when he started playing at coffee houses in the Dinkytown commercial district of Minneapolis.

It was then that he began to introduce himself as Bob Dylan, explaining in his 2004 memoir Chronicles that he had been influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

Some of Dylan's best-known songs date from the early 1960s, when he moved to New York City and performed as a traditional folk musician -- a solo artist -- with an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

His songs from that era, like Blowin' In The Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin', became political anthems for the civil-rights and antiwar movements in the United States.

But Dylan consistently denied his categorization by mainstream media as "spokesman of a generation."

Dylan's many albums -- described by the Swedish Academy as having "tremendous impact on popular music" -- have included Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited in 1965, Blonde On Blonde in 1966, Blood On The Tracks in 1975, Oh Mercy in 1989, Time Out Of Mind in 1997, and Modern Times in 2006.

Biographical notes about Dylan that accompanied the Swedish Academy’s October 13 announcement said: "Dylan has recorded a large number of albums revolving around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics, and love. The lyrics have continuously been published in new editions, under the title Lyrics. As an artist, he is strikingly versatile; he has been active as painter, actor, and scriptwriter."

The academy also noted that Dylan has toured "persistently" since the late 1980s in "an undertaking called the Never-Ending Tour."

It said Dylan had "the status of an icon," his influence on contemporary music has been "profound," and "he is the object of a steady stream of secondary literature."

In addition to the award in literature and the Nobel Peace Prize, Nobel Prizes are awarded in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, and economics.

Each recipient receives 8 million Swedish krona, or about $900,000.

The 2016 awards will be formally presented at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, with the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, and The New York Times
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