Within the broader period of contemporary literature, there are numerous important literary movements that are worth discussing. They include the Beat Generation, Black Mountain poets, Confessional poetry, New Formalism, Nouveau Roman, and New Wave. These are described in more detail below.
Explore Contemporary Period
Contemporary Period Literature Definition
Contemporary literature is that which was created after the end of World War II. So, from 1945 to the current day. It can be difficult to define a literary period that is still occurring. But, the easiest way to do so is to look to the various movements that the period has consisted of so far.
During this period, readers have seen the development of numerous genres, such as dystopian fiction, contemporary horror, New Wave fiction, the psychological thriller, romantic comedy, and more. Additionally, within this time period, readers can find important novels, short stories, poems, essays, and more.
Three of the most important movements within contemporary literature can be explored below.
Movements in Contemporary Literature
- Black Mountain Poets: a group of writers centered around Black Mountain College, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. They included Larry Eigner, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and more.
- Confessional Poetry: a style of poetry that is personal, often making use of a first-person narrator. It emerged in the US in the 1950s. Writers who were part of this movement included: Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath.
- Beat Generation: a literary movement that began after the Second World War and known for its liberal attitudes towards life. Part of this movement were writers like: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs.
Characteristics of Contemporary Period Literature
Below are a few of the characteristics that readers might recognize within contemporary literature.
- Reflects the current political, social, and broader personal issues of the time.
- Very realistic characters.
- Writing styles that are easy to read.
- The desire to experiment with new genres.
Examples of Contemporary Period Literature
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore was written in 2000 by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In 2005, its English translation became a best seller within the United States. It was also named one of the “10 best books of 2005.” The story follows a 15-year-old boy who attempts to escape a fate similar to Oedipus. Murakami is noted for writing in the style of magical realism. For example, there is an old man in the novel who can talk to cats. Here is a quote from the book:
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
milk and honey by Rupi Kaur
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is a well-known and well-loved contemporary poetry collection. The book is divided into four sections, each of which deals with different topics that readers should be able to relate it. Broadly, the book is about themes of violence, loss, femininity, and love. The four sections are:
- The hurting
- The loving
- The breaking
- The healing
The book was published in 2014 and has sold over three million copies. It was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 165 weeks. Today, Kaur has a large following online, one that has resulted in her being able to publish two other well-received poetry collections. Strikingly contemporary, this collection includes numerous illustrations created by Kaur herself.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King was published in June 2014. It is one of three novels included in the “Bill Hodges Trilogy,” a series of detective novels that include memorable supernatural elements. This first novel follows Bill Hodges as he attempts to track down the “Mercedes killer,” a serial killer who, at the beginning of the book, drove a Mercedes into a crowd of job-seekers waiting outside a convention center early in the morning. Here is a quote:
Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.
Stephen King is considered to be one of the most popular contemporary writers in America. Throughout his career, his novels have sold millions of copies. Others include The Stand, It, and 11/22/53). He continues his prolific career to write to this day.
Read about Stephen King’s best books.
The Handmaid’s Tale is, without a doubt, Margaret Atwood’s most famous novel. It is firmly set in the contemporary genre of dystopian fiction and was published in 1985. The book describes a dystopian future government that is worryingly patriarchal and strictly religious. The ruling class of infertile men and women subjugate women in an attempt to have children. Here is a quote from The Handmaid’s Tale:
There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.
The novel has won numerous prestigious literary awards, including the 1986 Booker Prize and the first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987.
Explore Margaret Atwood’s poetry.
Contemporary literature is a period that is hard to define because it is so vast. It includes everything written after World War II till the present day. It includes novels written in all genres styles and with many different intentions. Writers over the last 70 years have done a great deal of experimentation. They often utilize strong, memorable characters, experiment with new styles of poetry, and challenge the reader to reconsider their contemporary world.
The period of contemporary literature is said to begin after the end of World War II in 1945 and is still occurring to this day. It includes writers like Allen Ginsberg, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Isabel Allende, Ian McEwan, and more.
There are many different types of contemporary literature. Some that are distinct from the last 70 years include flash fiction and slam poetry. Genres like romantic comedy, psychological thrillers, and more have developed as well.
Some common themes in contemporary literature include coming of age, redemption, good versus evil, courage, feminism, oppression, and more.
Related Literary Terms
- Early Modern Period: a period in European literature that came before the development of the novel in the 18th century.
- Experimentalism: one part of modernism and postmodernist literature. Writers take risks, try strange new techniques, and attempt to create something that’s never been seen before.
- Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.
- Magical Realism: a genre of fiction writing that is interested in imbuing the modern realistic world with magical, fantastical elements.