Contemporary Lit: Definition, Meaning & Characteristics

Contemporary Lit Meaning

The term contemporary literature means belonging to or occurring in the present. This suggests that since the 1940s, writers have focused on sensations, emotions, and society as they experience them and convey their actual experiences.

Contemporary literature

The modernity or contemporary literary movement includes all literary events that occurred after postmodernity. It is defined not only by its era but also by its very peculiar style.

This phase continues to this day. Modern literature is characterized by fragmentation, unreliable storytelling, imitation (imitating styles and authors), shifting narratives, non-linear presentation, games, and language.

Similarly, literature is known for its historical postmodern content. This has something to do with the era of computers, robots, mobile phones, globalization, etc. Some works and some writers can be considered contemporary if they share a style, art, or current theme.

According to this concept, even some writers from other centuries appear contemporaneous. Much of modern literature originates from Western writers, but the term is not limited to European or American literature.

In fact, globalization has helped to appreciate the contemporary work of many literary figures from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. In addition to fiction and poetry, this literary style encompasses a wide variety of genres, including traditional fiction and other forms adapted to new realities (graphic novels and literature, blogs).


1940 to 1990

Over the past half century, humanity has witnessed many changes. The end of World War II, the fall of communism in Europe, and the end of the Cold War marked the beginning of a new society.

Technological innovations such as mobile phones, the Internet, color televisions, and digital discs (DVDs) are also evolving. It was also the age of new music like hip-hop, and a new culture was accepted.

In this wave of change, literature was enriched with new genres. Many of these are responses to technological change and new social realities.

A feature of modern literature from this period is that many of the stories are fact-based, have logical plots, and retain characteristics such as a focus on characters.

In the course of further development until the 1990s, contemporary began to paint a harsh reality. Likewise, he is attentive to revealing psychological problems such as exclusion and loneliness.

1990 to the present

The period from 1990 to 2000 was marked by globalization, growing concern about global warming, and the fight against Islamic terrorism.

Moreover, it was a decade marked by wars, natural disasters, and population growth. The 2008 recession, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, also caused many people to lose their jobs.

So modern literature has been influenced by all this and has nurtured all these new contexts. A new genre was born to meet the communication needs of society.

The cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, new fantasy novels, and the return to the meter and rhyme in poetry are indicative of the new time.

Characteristics of contemporary literature

Personal point of view

Works of contemporary literature reflect the social and political views of their authors. These are shown through the characters, the connections with the events, and the socio-economic messages of his works.

Innovative narrative resources

There is a break with previous narrative techniques. Contemporary literature uses avant-garde narrative resources, such as the modification of time and the presentation of the inner world of the characters.

Magical realism

The development of magical realism as a narrative technique represents a breakthrough in contemporary 20th-century literature. This revolutionary technique is marked by a deep social and political character.

Pressing topics

Most of the topics in contemporary literature are related to the crippling problems of the world today, such as globalization, race and gender, inequality, climate and environment, wars, and terrorism.

Likewise, in this extensive list, you can find other topics, such as politics and economics, ethics and morals, mass culture and the media, international crime, and others.

Influence of World War II

Contemporary works of literature tend to be influenced by the prosperous lifestyle that followed World War II. This literary style has its roots in the devastation that war brought to the world.

Fiction and non-fiction superimposed

In contemporary literature the distinction between fiction and nonfiction can be blurred; This is known as crosses. Fiction writers base stories on real-life events and can even include authentic material.

On the other hand, nonfiction writers bring historical figures to life by incorporating imaginary dialogue and scenes.


Classic fiction genre

This genre is made up of stories, novels, plays, poems, and movies. Everything is imaginary and invented, but it is presented as a mirror that reflects life and human experience, in a concrete or abstract way.

Now, the first way to distinguish contemporary fiction is that it will have universal truths and emotions that every human being can experience. In some way, it gives expression to emotions.

Similarly, fiction in contemporary literature is realistic, which means that it has the following characteristics:

  • Contains characters that behave the way most readers would. The characters must be credible.
  • The story is set in the present.
  • An environment is a real place, or at least it looks like a real place.
  • Events are events that could happen in real life.
  • The dialogue is informal and conversational and often includes regional dialects.

Ghostwriter literature

A surprising number of successful books are written by ghostwriters. But there are also ghost novels.

By definition, these authors do not have names and are known only to their peers and their dependent publishers.

Graphic novels

The graphic novel is usually interpreted as a comic with a long narrative for a mature audience, published in hardcover or paperback and sold in bookstores, with serious literary themes and sophisticated works of art. what is contemporary literature definition

Children’s Literature

The last 20 years have seen a flowering of children’s writing. Among the top representatives of this literature are CS Lewis ( Chronicles of Narnia ) and JK Rowling ( Harry Potter ).

Science fiction

Science fiction is a very popular branch of contemporary literature. This is intertwined with the technological progress of the world.

However, science fiction literary works do not necessarily imply a solid scientific foundation. A writer can create a science fiction literary work to express an alternative point of view or concept.

Blog Literature

Blogs (online magazines of an individual or joint authorship) have become a new medium for creating literary works. There are even cases in which these creations have been turned into books.

Contemporary literature in Mexico


Until the mid-1940s, various narrative styles coexisted in Mexico. The realistic narrative inherited from the 1900s persisted, and the indigenous novel and reflections on being and national culture emerged.

Beginning in 1947, contemporary Mexican literature began. It was influenced by American and European writers. Literary magazines appeared that grouped contemporary writers and published their works.

The groups took the name of the magazine that sponsored them and made this patronage a cultural trend.

The themes and narration techniques became consistent with those of other contemporary writers from other latitudes.

Representative authors

Juan Rulfo (1917-1986)

He was a writer, screenwriter, and photographer born in the state of Jalisco. Two of his best works are Pedro Páramo and El llano en llamas. The first is a novel and the second is a collection of short stories.

Laura Esquivel (1950-)

She is recognized worldwide for her novel Como agua para chocolate, which was released in 1989. This novel became number one in sales in Mexico for three years. It was also the subject of a hit movie of the same name.

Octavio Paz (1914-1998)

He stood out as a great Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat. His extensive production includes Wild Moon, Between Stone and Flower, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Stone of Sun, and Freedom under Word.

Most of his works have been translated into many languages ​​around the world. After his death in 1998, Octavio Paz became the first Mexican writer to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Elena Poniatowska (1932)

The author of Flor de Lis or La Noche de Tlatelolco is one of the most prominent contemporary Mexican writers. This is demonstrated by distinctions such as the Cervantes Prize received in 2013.

Contemporary literature in Spain


From 1975 to the present date, in contemporary Spanish literature, there is a preeminence of the novel over other genres. The historical novel and the adventure novel, among others, dominate the literary scene.

It also covers topics that have been banned in the past, such as sexual freedom and other related topics. This literary production is regulated by the publishing markets and the literary awards.

In the same vein, literature now has a strong link with film production. In the adaptations, the filmmakers try to insert touches of the Spanish heritage and the peculiarities of this society.

Representative authors

Javier Marías (1951-)

He is considered by some critics as the best living contemporary Spanish writer. The following titles can be highlighted from his work: Corazon tan blanco and Your face tomorrow.

Marías has received numerous awards, including the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in 1994, the IMPAC International Literary Prize in Dublin in 1997, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2011.

Rosa Montero (1951-)

She has been acclaimed both as a journalist and as a novelist. His novels  The Delta function and The madman of the house, have had overwhelming literary and commercial successes.

He has won the Qué Leer awards for the best book published in Spain, and the Italian Grinzane Cavour award for the best foreign book. He has also won the National Journalism Award several times.

Enrique Vila-Matas (1948-)

He has excelled in a variety of forms: film reviews, novels, essays, and film scripts. He wrote his first novel, Woman in the Mirror when he was a teenager.

Among the awards he has won are the Italian Bottari Lattes Grinzane Award, the French Jean Carriere Award, and the Spanish Leteo Award. Vila-Matas’s works have been translated into many languages.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte (1951-)

One of the most successful Spanish writers from the 90s onwards. His career as a war reporter has allowed him to take a very particular vision of life when it comes to capturing his works. Member of the Language Academy, some of his most notable creations are The Dumas club (1993), The fencing master (1988), or The Flanders table (1998).

Contemporary literature in Colombia


The contemporary Colombian literary movement is highly influenced by the political history of the country. In novelistic production, themes such as internal war, drug trafficking, and corruption, among others, are reflected.

Likewise, the national identity has come into force. Evidence of this is a large number of works on the political, cultural, and social history of the country.

Simultaneously, novel ways of telling stories have emerged; one of these is the use of magical realism.

Representative authors

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)

He was a Colombian novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, and journalist. Known as El Gabo throughout Latin America, he is considered one of the most important authors of the 20th century and one of the best in the Spanish language.

His many accolades for this undisputed representative of magical realism include the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature.

His extensive literary work includes One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Love in the Times of Cholera, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Laura Restrepo (1950-)

She is a Colombian journalist and writer recognized for having developed a mixture of reality and fiction to create a style that she calls “report style.”

His work includes Isla de Pasión, Las Vacas Eat Spaghetti, and his novel Delirio. This latest novel was awarded the Alfaguara prize in 2004.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez (1973-)

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a writer known for his work The noise of things when falling. This work, winner of the Alfaguara prize, revolves around drug trafficking and the subsequent violence induced by Pablo Escobar.

Álvaro Mutis (1923-2013)

Mutis is considered one of the best Latin American writers of the 20th century. The author of  Empresas y tribulations de Maqroll el Gaviero (1993) was distinguished with prestigious awards such as the Xavier Villaurrutia (1988) or the Cervantes (2001).

Most important awards

With contemporary literature, awards and distinctions were expanded, being a sign of the need to promote reading and to give recognition to the great men of letters.

Some of the most recognized are:

Nobel Prize in Literature

Presented by the Swedish Academy, the first award was presented in 1901 to the Frenchman Sully Prudhomme. Some of the Latin American authors who have won this award are Juan Ramón Jiménez (1956), Miguel Ángel Asturias (1967), Camilo José Cela (1989) or Mario Vargas Llosa (2010).

Miguel de Cervantes Award

Awarded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports of Spain, it is the most important prize for letters in the Spanish language. Its first installment was in 1976 to Jorge Guillén and, since then, it has been received by notable writers such as Jorge Luis Borges (1979), Rafael Alberti (1983), María Zambrano (1988) or Juan Goytisolo (2014).

Planet Award

Created in 1952 by the publisher Juan Manuel Lara, it is the financially largest prize for a novel in Castilian. Each year chooses a winner and a finalist, having obtained it among others Torcuato Luca de Tena (1961), Jorge Semprún (1977), Gonzalo Torrente Ballester (1988), or Fernando Savater (2008).

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