Bob Dylan wins Literature Nobel

"For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

October 13, 2016 04:32 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 12:17 pm IST

US music legend Bob Dylan, whose poetic lyrics have influenced generations of fans, won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday, the first songwriter to win the award in a decision that stunned prize watchers. The 75-year-old was honoured "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 spontaneous applause from journalists attending the prize announcement. The folk rock singer had been mentioned in Nobel speculation over the 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" while acknowledging that some might find Dylan a "strange" choice.

"... if you think back to Homer and Sappho, you realise that was also aural poetry. It was meant to be performed, together with instruments," she said. "But we still read them, 2,500-some years later... And in much the same way you can read Bob Dylan too. And you realise that he is great at rhyming, great at putting together refrains and great at poetic images," she told AFP.

Embodying both "the intellectual and popular tradition", he had been influenced by the Delta blues, folk music from the Appalachians and others such as the nineteenth century French poet Arthur Rimbaud who wrote in a surrealist style, she added. "Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound," the Academy wrote.

Author Salman Rushdie, often tipped as a possible Nobel winner himself, hailed Dylan as a "great choice". "From Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition," he tweeted. US President Barack Obama also tweeted his congratulations to Dylan, whom he called "one of my favourite poets". Famously private, Dylan himself had yet to comment on the prize more than five hours after the announcement.

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

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. Dylan's first British tour was captured in the classic documentary "Don't Look Back" in 1965 -- the same year he outraged his traditionalist 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 reflected 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, the 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".

'Class of his own'

Speculation prior to Thursday's announcement had focused on Syrian poet Adonis and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Reactions to the choice of Dylan were mostly positive, though some disapproved. The Academy has been known to push the limits of the definition of literature, honouring for example Winston Churchill in 1953 for his wartime speeches. Swedish music journalist Stefan Wermelin said the Academy was known for its varied choices. "Sometimes it's someone unknown whom few have read, and sometimes they pick someone who has popular appeal," he said. "But this is the first time the prize has gone to a musical form of expression and in that genre Dylan is totally in a class of his own." But Per Svensson, culture writer at Swedish regional daily Sydsvenskan, called this year's choice "incredibly depressing" and a "Trumpification" of the prestigious prize to appeal to the masses. Swedish author Johanna Koljonen noted meanwhile -- to misquote Dylan -- that the times are changing at the venerable 230-year-old Academy. "The Swedish Academy works with a bit of delay so... in 10 to 20 years we'll be having talks about Jay Z and Kanye, and that would be great."

Literature Nobel facts:

Hundred and nine have been awarded the Prize from 1901.

Fourteen women have got the Prize so far.

The prize was sharedfour times by two persons .

The youngest laureate was Rudyard Kipling (41), best known for his The Jungle Book .

The oldest laureate was Doris Lessing . She was 88 when she was awarded the Prize in 2007.

Sixty five was the average age of the laureates the year they were awarded the Prize.

The literature award caps the 2016 Nobel season, following more than a week of announcements for the prizes 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 the Prize creator Alfred Nobel.

A separate ceremony is held in Oslo for the Peace Prize laureate on the same day, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee grants that award.

Nobel Prize winners 2016

>Physiology or Medicine Nobel

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi “for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy.” The professor is currently with the Tokyo Institute of Technology. >Read more

>Physics Nobel

This year, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz for “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.” One half of the prize goes to Prof. Thouless and the rest to Prof. Haldane and Prof. Kosterlitz. >Read more

>Chemistry Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa for developing molecular machines. >Read more

>Peace Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to end his country's 50-year civil war. >Read more | >Making sense of Santos winning Peace Nobel

>Economics Nobel

British-born Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom of Finland won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their contributions to contract theory, shedding light on how contracts help people deal with conflicting interests. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their theories “are valuable to the understanding of real-life contracts and institutions, as well as potential pitfalls in contract design.” >Read more

(With inputs from Internet Desk)

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