US music legend Bob Dylan won the Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday, the first songwriter to win the prestigious award in a decision that stunned prize watchers.
Dylan, 75, was honored "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition," the Swedish Academy said.
The choice was met by gasps and a long round of applause from journalists attending the prize announcement. The folk singer has been mentioned in Nobel speculation in past years, but was never seen as a serious contender.
The Academy's permanent secretary Sara Danius said Dylan's songs were "poetry for the ears."
"Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound," it wrote in biographical notes about the famously private singer.
RELATED: Bob Dylan Debuts Art at New York Gallery
Last year, the prize went to Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich, for her documentary-style narratives based on witness testimonies.
Dylan will take home the eight million kronor ($906,000 or 822,000 euros) prize sum.
The Nobel is the latest accolade for a singer who has come a long way from his humble beginnings as Robert Allen Zimmerman, born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, who taught himself to play the harmonica, guitar and piano.
Captivated by the music of folksinger Woody Guthrie, Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan -- reportedly after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas -- and began performing in local nightclubs.
After dropping out of college he moved to New York in 1960. His first album contained only two original songs, but the 1963 breakthrough "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" featured a slew of his own work including the classic "Blowin' in the Wind."
Armed with a harmonica and an acoustic guitar, Dylan confronted social injustice, war and racism, quickly becoming a prominent civil rights campaigner -- and recording an astonishing 300 songs in his first three years.
In 1965 Dylan's first British tour was captured in the classic documentary "Don't Look Back" -- the same year he outraged his folk fans by using an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival on Rhode Island.
The following albums, "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde," won rave reviews, but Dylan's career was interrupted in 1966 when he was badly injured in a motorcycle accident, and his recording output slowed in the 1970s.
WATCH VIDEO: How to Win a Nobel Prize