“The singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday for ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,’ in the words of the Swedish Academy.
“He is the first American to win since the novelist Toni Morrison, in 1993. The announcement, in Stockholm, came as something of a surprise. Although Mr. Dylan, 75, has been mentioned often as having an outside shot at the prize, his work does not fit into the literary canons of novels, poetry and short stories that the prize has traditionally recognized.
“‘Mr. Dylan’s work remains utterly lacking in conventionality, moral sleight of hand, pop pabulum or sops to his audience,’ the former Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman wrote in a 2013 Op-Ed essay in The New York Times arguing for Mr. Dylan to get the award. ‘His lyricism is exquisite; his concerns and subjects are demonstrably timeless; and few poets of any era have seen their work bear more influence.’
“Mr. Dylan was born on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minn., and grew up in Hibbing. He played in bands as a teenager, influenced by the folk musician Woody Guthrie, the authors of the Beat Generation and modernist poets. He moved to New York in 1961 and began to perform in clubs and cafes in Greenwich Village. The following year, he signed a contract with the record producer John Hammond for his debut album, ‘Bob Dylan’ (1962). His many other albums, which the Swedish Academy described as having ‘a tremendous impact on popular music,’ include [‘The Freewheelin’ (1963)], ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (1965), ‘Blonde On Blonde’ (1966) and ‘Blood on the Tracks’ (1975), [‘Desire’ (1976)], ‘Oh Mercy’ (1989), ‘Time Out Of Mind’ (1997), [‘Love and Theft’ (2001)], and ‘Modern Times’ (2006).
“‘Dylan has recorded a large number of albums revolving around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love,’ the Swedish Academy said in a biographical note accompanying the announcement. ‘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 added: ‘Since the late 1980s, Bob Dylan has toured persistently, an undertaking called the ‘Never-Ending Tour.’ Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound, and he is the object of a steady stream of secondary literature.’
Mr. Dylan, whose original name is Robert Allen Zimmerman… The Nobel, one of the world’s most prestigious and financially generous awards, comes with a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor, or just over $900,000. The literature prize is given for a lifetime of writing rather than for a single work… Previous Nobel laureates in literature have included giants like Rudyard Kipling, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and Gabriel García Márquez…”