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A wealth of Lithuanian literature was written in Latin, the main scholarly language in the Middle Ages.
Lithuanian literary works in the Lithuanian language were first published in the 16th century. In 1547, Martynas Mažvydas compiled and published the first printed Lithuanian book, The Simple Words of Catechism, which marks the beginning of printed Lithuanian literature. He was followed by Mikalojus Daukša in Lithuania Propria with his Catechism, or Education Obligatory to Every Christian. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Lithuanian literature was primarily religious. The 18th century witnessed a modest increase in secular publications, including dictionaries. Kristijonas Donelaitis wrote the first Lithuanian poem Metai (The Seasons, 1818), thus laying the foundations for Lithuanian poetry. The University of Vilnius promoted the usage of the language and the creation of literary works in the first half of the 19th century. However, Russia announced a 40-year ban on the printing of Lithuanian language, for fear of an uprising from Lithuanian nationalists. As a result, publishing was transferred to East Prussia and Lithuanian books were delivered to Lithuania by book smugglers.
When the ban against printing in the Lithuanian language using the Latin alphabet was lifted in 1904, various European literary movements such as Symbolism, impressionism, and expressionism each in turn influenced the work of Lithuanian writers. The first period of Lithuanian independence (1918–40) gave them the opportunity to look into themselves and their characters more deeply, as their primary concerns were no longer political. An outstanding figure of the early 20th century was Vincas Krėvė-Mickevičius, a novelist and dramatist. His many works include Dainavos šalies senų žmonių padavimai (Old Folks' Tales of Dainava, 1912) and the historical dramas Šarūnas (1911), Skirgaila (1925), and Mindaugo mirtis (The Death of Mindaugas, 1935). Petras Vaičiūnas was another popular playwright, producing one play each year during the 1920s and 1930s. Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas wrote lyric poetry, plays, and novels, including the novel Altorių šešėly (In the Shadows of the Altars, 3 vol., 1933), a remarkably powerful autobiographical novel.
The self-educated Žemaitė (1845–1921) published a number of short stories in the early 20th century; her frank and compassionate stories of Lithuanian village life were commemorated by her image on the 1-litas note.
The Keturi vėjai movement began with the publication of Prophet of the Four Winds by the talented poet Kazys Binkis (1893–1942). It was a rebellion against traditional poetry. The theoretical basis of Keturi vėjai initially was futurism which arrived through Russia from the West; later influences were cubism, dadaism, surrealism, unanimism, and German expressionism. The most influential futurist in Lithuania was the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.
Oskaras Milašius (Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz) (1877–1939) was born and spent his childhood in Cereja (near Mogilev, Belarus) and graduated from Lycée Janson de Sailly in Paris. In 1920, when France recognized the independence of Lithuania, he was appointed Chargé d’Affairs for Lithuania. His publications included a 1928 collection of 26 Lithuanian songs, Lithuanian Tales and Stories in 1930, Lithuanian Tales in 1933, and The origin of the Lithuanian Nation in 1937.
Vytautė Žilinskaitė (b. 1930) received two prizes for her children's books, a 1972 state prize for works described as humorous or satiric, and a 1964 Journalists’ Union prize. In 1961 she published Don’t Stop, Little Hour, a collection of poetry.
Tomas Venclova, born in Klaipėda, is a poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. While a professor at Vilnius University, he became involved in the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, a human rights organization that included protests against Soviet activities in Lithuania amongst its activities. His involvement led to conflicts with the government, but in 1977 he gained permission to emigrate to the US and became a professor at Yale University. The Sign of Speech, a volume of poetry, published in Lithuania before his departure, was followed by other volumes of poetry, essays, and translations published in the US. Several compilations of these works were published in Lithuania after it achieved independence. His literary criticism includes a study of Aleksander Wat.
Lithuanian literature in exile
A body of work exists by those Lithuanians who were compelled to leave the country or emigrated with their parents in childhood. These authors include Antanas Škėma, Alfonsas Nyka-Nyliūnas, Marius Katiliškis, Kazys Bradūnas, Bernardas Brazdžionis, and Henrikas Radauskas.
- Introduction to Latin language Lithuanian literature Archived 2007-10-06 at the Wayback Machine.
- LMS IC: Classic Lithuanian Literature Anthology: Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas (about the author)
- Alfonsas Nyka-Niliūnas. Keturi vėjai ir keturvėjinikai, Aidai, 1949, No. 24
- Lietuviškos knygos Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine.
- International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Archived 2006-10-02 at the Wayback Machine.
- Tomas Venclova - Jonas Zdanys
- The Experience of Exile in Lithuanian Poetry Archived 2006-08-23 at the Wayback Machine.