Bob Dylan, the songwriter known for a wide-ranging career and complex, symbolic, and often esoteric lyrics delivered in a raspy, mercurial lilt, has won the 109th Nobel Prize in Literature. The award was announced on October 13 by Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.
In its citation, the Academy praised Dylan for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." This is the first time an American has won the Nobel Prize in Literature since it was awarded to Toni Morrison in 1993, and the first time it has been awarded to a songwriter or lyricist.
Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941. He first made his mark in New York's Greenwich Village during the early 1960s as part of the burgeoning folk music scene. His songs "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" became anthems of the American civil rights and anti-war movements. In the mid-1960s, after years of playing with nothing but an acoustic guitar, Dylan incorporated electric instruments into his music on albums such as Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
The prolific songwriter's musical style would prove more mercurial yet over his more than 50-year career, morphing a number of times over the years, from subdued, confessional albums such as the Blood on the Tracks to Dylan's more recent country- and blues-inflected output, including 2001's Love and Theft. Influences outside of folk, blues, and country include gospel, rockabilly, British folk music, jazz, and the Great American Songbook.
In addition to his musical career, Dylan is the author of Tarantula, a book of prose poetry, and Chronicles, a projected three-part memoir series, published by Simon & Schuster. He has also authored multiple art books and children's books.
S&S publisher Jonathan Karp saluted Dylan on the Nobel win, saying, "We congratulate Bob Dylan on this extraordinary honor. For decades, he has fused poetry and music with groundbreaking artistry." S&S is accelerating publication of Dylan's The Lyrics: 1961-2012, which was set for a November 8 release.
The move comes as a surprise to many, as Dylan's odds for winning the prize were put at 50-1 by English betting site Ladbrokes. More traditional American writers, including perennial favorites Philip Roth (7-1), Don DeLillo (10-1), and Joyce Carol Oates (14-1), have consistently polled higher in predictions. Reactions have been mixed, and some in the literary community are baffled at the choice of a musician over the likes of acclaimed novelists like Roth, DeLillo, Marilynne Robinson, and Cormac McCarthy, or even a more contemporary or obscure writer from what Electric Literature's Lincoln Michel calls American literature's "very deep bench."
Dylan has previously won 11 Grammy Awards, one Academy Award, and one Golden Globe Award, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. He is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include new information.
CORRECTION: This story's abstract initially stated that Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize during a ceremony. The ceremony for bestowing the award has yet to be held; Dylan was named the winner in an official announcement.