Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday morning “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” according to the release. He is the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993.
“He is a great poet in the English-speaking tradition,” said Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, following the announcement. “For 54 years now, he’s been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”
Danius disagreed with the suggestion that Dylan is an unorthodox choice for the honor, despite not having written in the more traditional sense.
“It may look that way, but we haven’t,” she said. “If you look [2,000 years] back, you discover poetic texts that were meant to be listened to with instruments. It’s the same way with Bob Dylan. He can be read, and should be read.
Dylan played at the White House in 2010 at the Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement concert in February of 2010 in a performance that stuck with President Barack Obama.
“He wouldn’t come to the rehearsal. Usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that,” the president told Rolling Stone. “He came in and played ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.’ A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage – I’m sitting right in the front row – comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it – then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.”
Dylan was born into a Jewish family in 1941, although reportedly no longer identifies as Jewish. He also spent several summers at Herzl Camp in Webster, Wis., as a teen.