Contemporary literature is a vast group of written works produced from a specific time in history through the current age. This literary era defines a time period, but it also describes a particular style and quality of writing. Some see this period as an extension of postmodern literature, but most refer to it as a literary era of its own.
Most agree that the era of contemporary writing began in the 1940s. A few scholars claim this period started at the end of World War II, and this is where the era's pairing with postmodern literature comes in. The postmodern era began after WWII, in the 1940s, and lasted through the 1960s. The contemporary period extends to the current day.
Although there are a few disagreements about the beginning of this literary period, the biggest dispute surrounds what qualifies a written work as literature. The word refers to both poetry and prose, where prose includes works of fiction such as novels and novellas, essays, and dramatic works. This term also refers to the quality of writing. In order to be considered literature, a written work must uphold the highest writing standards and contain a particular beauty and style. Many literary works become socially relevant and have the power to influence the public.
Much of contemporary literature comes from Western authors; however, the term is not synonymous with English or American literature, and this literary period can apply to written works from anywhere in the world. In fact, globalization opened the door to include contemporary works written by many literary figures in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Genres included in this literary period span a variety of writing forms in addition to novels and poetry. Flash fiction, short stories, slam poetry, plays, memoirs, and autobiographies can all be included in this category. Nonfiction is usually not classified as literature, but this era sometimes includes works of creative nonfiction, which tell a true story using literary techniques.
Typical characteristics of the contemporary period include reality-based stories with strong characters and a believable story. Settings usually keep to the current or modern era, so futuristic and science fiction novels are rarely included in this category. Well-defined, realistic, and highly developed characters are important in classifying a written work as contemporary, and most writing in this category features stories that are more character driven than plot driven.
Contemporary literature features a somewhat modern narrative, but it also contains a harsher reality. Contemporary written works tend to be influenced by the prosperous lifestyle that followed WWII, but this literary class is rooted in the devastation that war brought to the world. A new reality blossomed in the post-war mind, and it included a personal cynicism, disillusionment, and frustration that is common to this literary period.