Bob Dylan, the folk wailer of the 1960s whose songbook formed the basis for Twyla Tharp’s 2006 Broadway musical The Times They Are A-Changin’, was named winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.
The surprise award was given for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
He is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993. The award comes with a gold medal and a $923,179.20 stipend.
Dylan’s music has also been sampled in the Broadway musicals A Night With Janis Joplin (2013), Rock ’N Roll! The First 5,000 Years (1982) and Paul Sills’ Story Theatre (1970).
The last American playwright to win the award was Eugene O'Neill in 1936, though several other American winners have had theatre connections.
Dylan, 75, began his career playing folk music, mostly all written by himself, in Greenwich Village clubs. After achieving international fame playing acoustical instruments, he famously scandalized the music world by adopting electronic instruments and moving toward a rock style. His numerous standards include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Lay Lady Lay,” “Tangled Up in Blues” and hundreds more.
However, he wrote in his autobiography, Chronicles, that he experienced an artistically transformative moment while attending a stage musical in 1963, the landmark Off-Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera: ”In a few years’ time, I’d write and sing songs like ‘It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding),’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,‘ ‘Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,‘ ’Who Killed Davey Moore,‘ ’Only a Pawn in Their Game,‘ ’A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall‘ and some others like that. If I hadn't gone to the Theatre de Lys and heard the ballad ‘Pirate Jenny’ it might not have dawned on me to write them, that songs like these could be written.”