The Pulitzer Prize committee wasn't sure how to reach the ever-elusive Bob Dylan on Monday after it awarded him a rare "special citation" that has gone to the likes of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Dr. Seuss.
"I might ask you for suggestions of who to contact," Pulitzer administrator Sig Gissler told a reporter from Dylan's home state. "We're starting from scratch."
The Pulitzer is regarded as the highest U.S. award in music, literature and print journalism. Dylan did not win in the music category, which honors a specific composition, but rather "for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."
The Minnesota native, 66, will be the first living musician to receive this citation since composer William Schuman in 1985.
"Dylan has been due for something like this for a long, long time," said Minneapolis composer Dominick Argento, who won a music Pulitzer in 1975. "It would be hard to name anyone else to surpass him in his field. He's even had an influence in my field; a lot of classical composers are aware of Bob Dylan."
Like Dylan, two of the 17 voting members of the Pulitzer Prize board of directors have Minnesota connections. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman grew up in St. Louis Park, and Miami Herald editor Anders Gyllenhaal was the editor of the Star Tribune from 2002 to 2007.
"I'm really delighted," said Gyllenhaal, who championed Dylan to the Pulitzer committee. "I've always been a fan."
Although the Duluth-born, Hibbing-raised Dylan is one of the most celebrated figures in contemporary music, his most recent work is a book of visual art. "Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series," published in March, is a collection of 170 paintings he did in 2007. He is believed to be working on the second installment of his memoirs; the widely lauded "Chronicles -- Volume One" was a best-seller in 2004. His most recent album, "Modern Times," was released in 2006.
Pulitzer special citations are not given every year. Only 38 people -- most of them journalists -- have received one since 1917. They have become a sort of lifetime-achievement award for notables who didn't win a Pulitzer in their field.
The music prize, for example, generally went to classical composers until the Pulitzer board passed a resolution four years ago to redefine and broaden the criteria.
When Ellington was passed over for the award at 67 -- the age Dylan will turn on May 24 -- he famously remarked: "Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn't want me to be famous too young."
The first special citation in music was given to composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for "Oklahoma" in 1944. Other recipients include jazz legends Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, essayist/children's book author E.B. White and science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury.
Dylan's website, www.bob dylan.com, had no mention of the Pulitzer on Monday.
Among Dylan's other honorary awards are Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres from the French government in 1990, a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1991, Kennedy Center honors in 1997, the Polar Music Prize in 2000 and the Prince of Asturias arts award in Spain in 2007.
"I have no idea what his reaction will be," said Gissler -- let alone whether Dylan will attend the awards ceremony May 29 at Columbia University in New York.
That may be as problematic as tracking him down. Dylan has a concert in Denmark the night before, and one in Norway the day after. When informed of Dylan's schedule, the Pulitzer administrator said: "It doesn't sound like he'd do a transatlantic turnaround."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719