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Published: 4/14/2008

Bob Dylan Receives Pulitzer Prize

Judges note his ‘profound impact on popular music and American culture’

updated 5:58 p.m. CT, Thurs., April. 10, 2008

Bob DylanNEW YORK - Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock ’n roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall.

Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.

“I am in disbelief,” Dylan fan and fellow Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz said of Dylan’s award.

Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” a tragic, but humorous story of desire, politics and violence among Dominicans at home and in the United States, won the fiction prize. Diaz, 39, worked for more than a decade on his first novel — “I spent most of the time on dead-ends and doubts,” he told The Associated Press on Monday — and at one point included a section about Dylan.

“Bob Dylan was a problem for me,” Diaz, who has also published a story collection, “Drown,” said with a laugh. “I had one part that was 40 pages long, the entire chapter was organized around Bob Dylan’s lyrics over a two year-period (1967-69). By the end of it, I wanted to throttle my like of Bob Dylan.”

The Pulitzer for drama was given to Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” which, like Diaz’s novel, combines comedy and brutality. Letts calls the play “loosely autobiographical,” a bruising family battle spanning several generations of unhappiness and unfulfilled dreams.

“It’s a play I have been working on in my head and on paper for many years now,” said Letts, reached by the AP in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theater Company, where “August: Osage County” had its world premiere last summer.

“There were just some details from my grandmother, my grandfather’s suicide (for example) that I had played over and over in my head for many, many years. I always thought, ‘Well, that’s the stuff of drama right there.”’

Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, already a National Book Award winner for “Time and Materials,” won the poetry Pulitzer, as did Philip Schultz’s “Failure.”

“This is the book ... I have always wanted to write,” Schultz told the AP. “Everyone is expert on one subject and failure seems to be mine. ... I was born into it. My father went bankrupt when I was 18 and he died soon afterward out of (a) terrible sense of shame. And we lost everything, my mother and I.”

Other winners Monday: Daniel Walker Howe, for history, for “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848”; Saul Friedlander, general nonfiction, for “The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945”; for biography, John Matteson’s “Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.”

“I wrote my book in a way that is generally accessible to the curious literate reader,” Howe said. “And I think that’s very important, and I wish more books were written that way.”

“It’s a special honor because it ties me even more to the country of which I’m now a citizen,” said Friedlander, who became a U.S. citizen seven years ago and won the German Booksellers Association’s 2007 Peace Prize for his work on documenting the Holocaust.