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Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize in Literature

75-year-old music icon 'created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition'

CBC News

October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan, seen here at The Hop Festival in Paddock Wood, U.K. in 2012, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. (Ki Price/Reuters)

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, organizers announced early Thursday — marking the first time the prestigious award has gone to someone known primarily as a musician. 

The Swedish Academy cited the 75-year-old music icon for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

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Dylan, who rarely gives interviews, had no immediate comment, according to a representative.

Currently on tour, he was scheduled to play in Las Vegas Thursday night.

Dylan had been mentioned in the Nobel speculation for years, but few expected the academy to extend the award to a pop songwriter and musician.

Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, likened Dylan's work and his literary merits to those of the earliest Western poets.

"If you look back, far back … you discover Homer and Sappho," Danius said. "And they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, they were to meant to be performed, often with instruments." 

"But we still read Homer and Sappho and enjoy it," she said. "It's the same way with Bob Dylan."

The academy's last unorthodox pick for literature laureate came in 1997, when Italian playwright Dario Fo was named. Fo, who died Thursday at the age of 90, had been considered controversial because some felt his plays need to be performed to be fully appreciated. 

Still, as Dylan — arguably the most iconic poet-musician of his generation — was revealed as this year's laureate at the academy's headquarters in Stockholm's Old Town on Thursday, reporters and others gathered at the event reportedly reacted with gasps, laughter and a loud cheer. 

On social media, however, the idea of Dylan as a Nobel-winner was met with mixed reviews.

Some praised the decision as more inclusive.

Meanwhile, many others lambasted the academy's choice, including self-described Dylan fans. Some critics called it a slight to writers.

Constant reinvention

Born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minn. in 1941, Dylan built his reputation with folk music by his 20s, but ever-evolving — and at times to the dismay of existing fans — he would also delve into rock, country, gospel, blues, pop, and rhythm and blues.

Songs from his catalog, including Blowin' in the Wind and The Times They Are A-Changin', became anthems for the U.S. anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s, and his impact on popular culture is immense.

He remains cited as an influence by major songwriters and musicians to this day. He continues to perform, including delivering a setlist packed with fan favourites and newer material during last weekend's Desert Trip music festival in Indio, Calif.

Dylan previously won a Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to American culture, a Grammy lifetime achievement award and a 2001 Oscar for the song Things Have Changed (from the movie Wonder Boys).

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Initial Swedish announcement and reaction followed by the English version  0:39

Literature was the last of this year's Nobel prizes to be awarded.

Three researchers shared the prize for chemistry for their work on molecular machines, while the medicine prize went to a Japanese biologist who discovered the process by which a cell breaks down and recycles content. The physics prize was shared by three British-born scientists for theoretical discoveries that shed light on strange states of matter.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end that country's lengthy civil war. Two U.S.-based professors won the Nobel prize in economics on Monday for studying how to best design contracts.

The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.

Each prize is worth the equivalent of about $1.2 million Cdn (eight million kronor).

With files from The Associated Press
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