STOCKHOLM — The 2011 Nobel Prize in literature was awarded Thursday to Tomas Transtromer, a Swedish poet whose surrealistic works about the mysteries of the human mind won him acclaim as one of the most important Scandinavian writers since World War II.
The Swedish Academy said it recognized the 80-year-old poet "because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."
In 1990, Transtromer suffered a stroke, which left him half-paralyzed and unable to speak, but he continued to write and published a collection of poems — "The Great Enigma" — in 2004.
"Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams. Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler sinks toward the green zone of morning," the poem reads. "Things flare up. From the viewpoint of the quivering lark he is aware of the huge root systems of the trees, their swaying underground lamps. But aboveground there's greenery — a tropical flood of it — with lifted arms, listening to the beat of an invisible pump."
Transtromer has been a perennial favorite for the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award, and in recent years Swedish journalists have waited outside his apartment in Stockholm on the day the literature prize was announced.
Transtromer's most famous works include the 1966 "Windows and Stones," in which he depicts themes from his many travels and "Baltics" from 1974.
His works have been translated into more than 50 languages and influenced poets around the globe, particularly in North America.
"He's been writing poetry since 1951 when he made his debut. And has quite a small production, really," said Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the academy.
"He's writing about big questions. He's writing about death, he's writing about history and memory, and nature," Englund said.
Transtromer is the first Swede to receive the literature prize since Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson shared it in 1974.
Englund has said that the academy is espeically cautious about awarding Swedish writers out of fear of being seen as biased.
"And so I think we've been quite thoughtful and haven't been rash," Englund said Thursday.
Since the 1950's, Transtromer has had a close friendship with American poet Robert Bly, who translated many of his works into English. In 2001, Transtromer's Swedish publishing house Bonniers published the correspondence between the two writers in the book "Air Mail."
Earlier this year, Bonniers released a collection of his works between 1954 and 2004 to celebrate the poet's 80th birthday.
Born in Stockholm in 1931, Transtromer grew up alone with his teacher mother after she divorced his father — a journalist. He started writing poetry while studying at the Sodra Latin school in Stockholm and debuted with the collection "Seventeen Poems" at age 23.
He received a degree in psychology from Stockholm University and later divided his time between poetry and his work as a psychologist.
British bookmaker Ladbrokes said a surge of late bets on Thursday had made Transtromer the 4/6 favorite for the prize.
"He was second favorite to begin with and stayed quite prominent throughout," said spokesman Alex Donohue.
"This morning he became the favorite after a surge of late bets, several of which were from Sweden," he said, adding the betting pattern wasn't suspicious.
"The nearer you get to the event, there are always going to be people who have an idea of what is going on ... we're certainly not suggesting anything untoward was going on."
The Nobel Prize, considered one of the highest accolades in literature, is given only to living writers. The academy's choices sometimes spark heated debate among literature experts.
Some of its previous picks were obscure even to literature experts, while others were widely celebrated authors decorated with numerous other awards.
Acclaimed writers who never won the Nobel include Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, James Joyce and Graham Greene.