'Greatest living poet' Bob Dylan wins Nobel literature prize

Bob Dylan, regarded as the voice of a generation for his influential songs from the 1960s onwards, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature in a surprise decision that made him the only singer-songwriter to win the award.

The 75-year-old Dylan - who won the prize for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition" - now finds himself in the company of Winston Churchill, Thomas Mann and Rudyard Kipling as Nobel laureates.

The announcement was met with gasps in Stockholm's stately Royal Academy hall, followed - unusually - by some laughter.

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Bob Dylan through the years
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Bob Dylan through the years
NEW YORK - 1961: Bob Dylan performs at The Bitter End folk club in Greenwich Village in 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Sigmund Goode/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Bob DYLAN; posed. C.1964 (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)
Portrait of American folk musician and songwriter Bob Dylan smiling and holding a cigarette, early 1960s. (Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 1961: Bob Dylan holding his acoustic guitar and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo pose for a portrait in September 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NOVEMBER 1961: Bob Dylan recording his first album, 'Bob Dylan', in front of a microphone with an acoustic Gibson guitar and a harmonica during one of the John Hammond recording sessions in November 1961 at Columbia Studio in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 1961: Bob Dylan poses for a portraitwith his Gibson Acoustic guitar in September 1961 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
1963: Bob Dylan poses for a portrait in 1963. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 01: NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL Photo of Bob DYLAN, performing live onstage (Photo by Gai Terrell/Redferns)
American folk singer Bob Dylan's album cover for 'Highway 61 Revisited,' 1965. (Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 01: BBC TV CENTRE Photo of Bob DYLAN, performing on TV show in June 1965 (Photo by Val Wilmer/Redferns)
NEW YORK - SUMMER 1965: Bob Dylan plays piano with a harmonica around his neck during the recording of the album 'Highway 61 Revisited' in Columbia's Studio A in the summer of 1965 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 09: Photo of Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage at the benefit for ousted Chileans: Felt Forum, New York (Photo by Steve Morley/Redferns)
NEW YORK - MAY 9: American folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performing for The Friends Of Chile Benefit Concert at the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden on May 9, 1974 in New York City. (Photo by Waring Abbott/Getty Images)
1974 File Photos of Bob Dylan in concert (Photo by R. Diamond/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - CIRCA 1978: Bob Dylan circa 1978 in New York City. (Photo by A.T./IMAGES/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 15: Photo of Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage at Blackbushe Aerodrome (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
ATLANTA - DECEMBER 12: Bob Dylan performing onstage playing his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar and wearing a vest on December 12, 1978 at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - CIRCA 1984: Bob Dylan circa 1984 in New York City. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 07: WEMBLEY STADIUM Photo of Bob DYLAN, Bob Dylan performing on stage (Photo by Keith Baugh/Redferns)
Bob Dylan performs on stage at Ahoy, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 4th June 1984. (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns)
Bob Dylan (Photo by Larry Busacca/WireImage)
George Harrison of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, inductees (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 01: Bob Dylan in concert at Radio City Music Hall (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Bob Dylan attends Roy Orbison Tribute on February 24, 1990 at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bob Dylan performs on stage at Guitar Legends, Seville, Spain, 1991. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Bob Dylan performs on stage at Expo Â92 Guitar Legends in Seville, Spain, October 1991. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Dylan, Bob *25.04.1941-(Eigentlich Robert Allen Zimmerman)Musiker, USA- Halbportrait mit Gitarre (Photo by Nagel - Sportbild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Bob Dylan performing at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Ca., 2/26/02. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.
UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05: Photo of Bob DYLAN; performing live onstage, wearing Stetson hat (Photo by Harry Scott/Redferns)
Bob Dylan during Willie Nelson and Friends: 'Outlaws & Angels' - Show and Backstage at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage for NBC Universal Photo Department)
Bob Dylan during Bonnaroo 2004 - Day 1 - Bob Dylan at Centeroo Performance Fields - 'What Stage' in Manchester, Tennessee, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
LONDON - JUNE 20: Singer Bob Dylan performs on stage at The Fleadh 2004 at Finsbury Park June 20, 2004 in London, England. The Fleadh 2004 doubles as the London stop of the UK leg of his European tour. (Photo by Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 16: WEMBLEY ARENA Photo of Bob DYLAN, Bob Dylan playing guitar and singing performing live onstage (Photo by Harry Scott/Redferns)
Bob Dylan performs on the first night of his American tour at The Backyard on August 4, 2010 in Austin, Texas.
Bob Dylan sighted on March 9, 1987 in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Bob Dylan attends Roy Orbison Tribute on February 24, 1990 at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
American music legend Bob Dylan performs during his concert at The Worker's Gymnasium in Beijing on April 6, 2011. Counter-culture legend Bob Dylan made his long-awaited China debut on April 6 after finally getting approval to bring his charged songs of protest and struggle to a nation where dissent is muzzled. AFP PHOTO/LIU Jin (Photo credit should read LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 08: (CHINA OUT) Bob Dylan performs on stage during his concert at the Shanghai Grand Stage on April 8, 2011 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 12: Bob Dylan performs on stage at the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Hollywood Palladium on January 12, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (Exclusive Coverage) Bob Dylan attends the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Honoree Bob Dylan speaks onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: Honoree Bob Dylan speaks onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Honoree Bob Dylan, former President Jimmy Carter and president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Neil Portnow pose with award onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala honoring Bob Dylan at the Los Angeles Convention Center on February 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The annual benefit raises critical funds for MusiCares' Emergency Financial Assistance and Addiction Recovery programs. For more information visit musicares.org. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/WireImage)
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Dylan's songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind", "The Times They Are a-Changin'", "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Like a Rolling Stone" captured a spirit of rebellion, dissent and independence.

More than 50 years on, Dylan is still writing songs and is often on tour, performing his dense poetic lyrics, sung in a sometimes rasping voice that has been ridiculed by detractors.

Some lyrics have resonated for decades.

"Blowin' in the Wind", written in 1962, was considered one of the most eloquent folk songs of all time. "The Times They Are A-Changin'", in which Dylan told Americans "your sons and your daughters are beyond your command", was an anthem of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests.

Awarding the 8 million Swedish crown ($930,000) prize, the Swedish Academy said: "Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound."

Swedish Academy member Per Wastberg said: "He is probably the greatest living poet."

Asked if he thought Dylan's Nobel lecture - traditionally given by the laureate in Stockholm later in the year - would be a concert, replied: "Let's hope so."

Over the years, not everyone has agreed that Dylan was a poet of the first order. Novelist Norman Mailer countered: "If Dylan's a poet, I'm a basketball player."

Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Academy, told a news conference there was "great unity" in the panel's decision to give Dylan the prize.

RELATED: 2016 Nobel Prize winners

Dylan has always been an enigmatic figure. He went into seclusion for months after a motorcycle crash in 1966, leading to stories that he had cracked under the pressure of his new celebrity.

He was born into a Jewish family but in the late 1970s converted to born-again Christianity and later said he followed no organized religion. At another point in his life, Dylan took up boxing.

Dylan's spokesman, Elliott Mintz, declined immediate comment when reached by phone, citing the early hour in Los Angeles, where it was 3 a.m. at the time of the announcement. Dylan was due to give a concert in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

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

(Additional reporting by Mia Shanley, Daniel Dickson and Simon Johnson; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Louise Ireland)

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