Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Dylan Days 2008 featured a rare photo of Bob Dylan on a friend's motorcycle in his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.

Dylan Days 2008 featured a rare photo of Bob Dylan on a friend’s motorcycle in his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.

Bob Dylan, born in Duluth and raised in the Mesabi Iron Range mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Though Dylan made several short lists for the prize in recent years, few thought the most prestigious writing award in the world would go to an artist whose primary medium was songwriting. This year, the Swedish Academy — the entity which awards Nobel Prizes for science and humanities — cited Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

And, yes, Dylan becomes the first Iron Ranger to win a Nobel Prize.

Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth in 1941. His family moved to Hibbing when he was a young boy. He graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959. A member of several garage bands in Hibbing during his teen years, few contemporaries thought the strange lad obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll would amount to much.

There were some in Hibbing who saw something special in Dylan. His friends and bandmates spoke of a young man driven to make something of himself. His late high school English teacher, B.J. Rolfzen, a gentle man who taught the power of poetry to two generations of miners’ sons and daughters, remembered him as a thoughtful student.

As it turned out, Dylan — adopting a new name and becoming famous when he moved to New York just two years later — ended up the icon of a new folk scene. In decades to follow, Dylan innovated rock ‘n’ roll before leading loyal fans into Americana music and even Christian rock.

For more than a decade, Dylan has lived on the road in his world-wide “Never-Ending Tour,” playing from his sprawling catalogue of favorites along with new, more contemplative songs.

The Dylan Days festival took place in Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing for 13 years. I was one of the organizers, until retirements and other commitments forced our committee to disband. New organizers started Dylan Fest, now held in Duluth every year around Dylan’s May 24 birthday.

Growing up east of Hibbing, long after the baby boomers were in their prime, I was always amazed at the simple fact that someone as influential and artistic as Dylan could come from Hibbing. It’s one of the things that drew me not only to Dylan’s music, but to the history and culture of the Iron Range.

I would certainly hope that the region, Hibbing in particular, would celebrate this award for the tremendous accomplishment it is. As I wrote this Thursday morning, Good Morning America broke into programming to announce the news. The BBC did a live evening show about it last night.

Dylan’s connection with the Iron Range seems complicated to some. But his relationship to the region is similar to that of thousands of young people who left in the 1950s and ’60s — and again in the ’80s and ’90s. Shaped by the forge of a powerful culture, Dylan took the education and experience of living on the industrial frontier into a hungry world. His work happened to be in the high profile field of entertainment, but his work ethic is Iron Range to its core.

In recent years, Dylan has spoken more often of his Northern Minnesota roots. In talking about his recent ironworking art, he said “I’ve been around iron all my life.” In his book “Chronicles” Dylan wrote fondly of the unique political and cultural blend present in 1950s Hibbing.

Dylan will accept the award at a Dec. 10 ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Nobel, an industrial titan and munitions manufacturer, dedicated his fortune to encouraging peace and human development late in life after contemplating his mixed legacy.

Dylan continues to shape his own legacy, too. Now he can add “Nobel Laureate” to the list.


  1. Greig Dahlke says

    Aaron Brown,
    I want to personally thank you for organizing the Dylan Days celebrations of years past in Hibbing. Your own hard work did not go unnoticed by me. I won 2nd place in 2003 for poetry and will never forget driving from Bagley for the award listening to Dylan. What I did with that $25 check for the contest. How I stayed up late and got laid off from my job the next day. But I got up, moved to the cities, and became a lawyer by working hard like you and Bob taught me. Congratulations Hibbing and Bob Dylan!


    • Hi Greg! I remember you! I had no idea of the story that played out after you left Hibbing that year. I’m honored the event holds such importance to you. It was a special experience for many writers, poets and musicians. I just loved doing it during the glory years, until I got so busy with all my other projects. I was so glad to be a part of it, and hope that we can bring it back some year when people are able to step up.

  2. Nice piece, Aaron, but just one thing: The literature prize is awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, like all the other Nobel prizes, except the Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo, Norway.

  3. What makes you so sure Dylan will show up and “accept the award”? A member of the Swedish Academy that awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature to Dylan says the American singer-songwriter’s silence since receiving the honor is “impolite and arrogant.” He might just say “screw you”.

    My guess is he’s thinking the Academy members most likely have never purchased of his music based on their lack of judgement in awarding the so-called Piece Prize in 2009.

  4. While Bob Dylan needs to be acknowledged for verbalizing the culture of our country from the Vietnam War to the present, I’m not sure he has thought of his work from the standpoint of getting a Nobel Prize as part of a literary genre. I don’t think he’s being arrogant in not responding. I’m just wondering what he could say. Maybe another folk song in the works…

  5. A little piece of correction! It’s not Swedish Academy that’s saying that Bob Dylan is Impolite and arrogant! It’s one of the members, Per Wästberg Who Said that like a private person not as spokesman for the institution Swedish Academy! ??Greetings from Kistalight Stockholm

  6. Gerry Mantel says

    The Nobel Prize seems a “bit” odd given that ‘ol Bob didn’t seem to like himself too much:

    1) Ed: “Dat Dylan makes a lot money, don’t he?”
    2) Bob Baut: “I cried like a baby when Elvis died, but — quite frankly — I never heard of Bob Dylan.
    3) Mikey: “That skinny-armed gook came from Hibbing? I didn’t know that.”
    4) Bill Chinnis: “Yeah, I heard of him.”
    5) Wrangler: “Well, Rod Stewart stole the title of that song ‘Forever Young’ from him, that’s about all I know.”
    6) Larry H: “I don’t know anything about ‘Highway 61 Revisited”, but some of those other songs are OK.”

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