Over the years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has had very varied literary traditions. Often, Serbian and Croatian writers from Bosnia and Herzegovina are not considered “Bosnian literature” but Serbian or Croatian. Here is an overview of the overall literature in the country.
The Middle Ages
The oldest literary memorial from Bosnia-Herzegovina is the Trebinje chronicle of the 11th century, written in Latin as part of Pop Dukljan’s chronicle of the history of slaves. The oldest literature in Slavic consists of religious writings (legends) from the 1100s to the 1400s, and is often put in connection with the Bosnian heretic church. In addition, there are written sources from the Middle Ages with no real literary value, such as inscriptions (on tombstones) and administrative documents.
Ivo Andrić is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most significant writers. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961.
The times 1500–1800
In the 16th and 16th centuries, there is both a Serbian and a Croatian literary tradition, linked to the Serbian Orthodox and the Catholic Church. The first printing press was established in 1519 in Goražde, where Serbian church books were printed for a few years. Among the Croatian Catholic Franciscan monks a rich literary tradition emerged. Matija Divković (1563–1631) printed her books in Venice, fables and edifying writings, written in the vernacular. During humanism in the 18th century, several major Catholic writers wrote in Latin.
Literature influenced by Oriental and Jewish tradition
From the 16th century, the conquest of the Turks led to a rich literary activity influenced by oriental culture. Many Bosnian writers wrote in Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Among the most important poems in Oriental languages are Derviš-paša Bajezidagić (died 1603), Muhamed Nerkesi (1584-1635), Mula Mustafa Bašeskija (1731-1809) and Arif Hikmetbeg Rizvanbegović (1839-1903).
There was also a literature in Slavic- Bosnian written in Arabic (the so-called alhamijado literature), especially love poems in Oriental tradition. Among the representatives of this literature are Muhamed Hevai Uskufi (1601–1651), Fejzo Softa (early 19th century) and the female poet Umihana Čuvidina (c. 1794–1870).
The Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain and settled in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1400s developed a literature in Spanish and Hebrew. Especially rich is the Bosnian-Spanish romance poem.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has rich folk poetry. The oldest records date from the 17th century. The famous folk song Hasanaginica (1774, in Viaggio in Dalmazia by Alberto Fortis) was translated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Bosnian folk songs can be found in the collections of the Serbian Vuk Karadžić at the beginning of the 19th century. Jukić’s collection of Bosnian folk songs was published in 1858. In 1887-1890, Austrian Kosta Hörmann published a large collection of folk songs. They are divided into seven valleys (love songs with an oriental feel), ballads and epic hero songs.
1800s and early 1900s
In the 19th century, a more recent Bosnian literature emerged. A prominent Croat-Bosnian author was the Franciscan monk Ivan Frano Jukić (1818–1858), who wrote poems and historical works and founded the first literary journal in 1850. In the late 1800s, a literature influenced by modern European currents emerged. A significant Croatian poet from Bosnia and Herzegovina was Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević (1865-1908). The most famous Muslim poets were Riza Beg Kapetanović Ljubušak (1868–1931), Safvet Beg Bašagić (1870–1934) and the symbolist Musa Cazim Catić (1878–1915). During the Austrian rule from 1878 to 1914 several literary journals, both Serbian, Croatian and Muslim, were published, and the literary and political divide was deepened.
Around the turn of the century, Mostar was a literary center with several major Serbian writers, such as the native poet Aleksa Šantić (1868–1924), the symbolist Jovan Dučić (1871–1943) and the proseist Svetozar Ćorović (1875–1919). Satirist Petar Kočić (1877-1916) fought for the Serbs’ national cause and wrote short stories and plays aimed at the Austrian occupation.
Mainly young Serbian writers gathered in the movement Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), which fought the Austrians and sought support in Serbia. Ivo Andrić, the most important author from Bosnia-Herzegovina, also belonged to this circle.
The interwar period
In the interwar period, when the country became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, there were several significant writers, including Croatian expressionist lyricist Antun Branko Simić (1898–1925), Muslims Hamza Humo (1895–1970), who wrote lyric and prose, and the prose Hasan Kikić (1905–1942). The foremost prosaist was the Jewish writer Isak Samokovlija (1889–1955), who in his short stories portrayed the life of the Bosnian Jews. Skender Kulenović (1910–1978) joined the partisans and wrote one of the most well-known poems about the suffering of the civilian population during World War II.
In the post-war period, the most significant lyricist was Mak Dizdar (1917–1971), with the poetry collection Steinsoverne, which built on ancient Bosnian myths. The humorist Branko Ćopić (1915–1993) gained great popularity. The most important prose writer was Meša Selimović (1910–1982), who wrote historical novels, including The Fortress and the Dervish and Death (Norwegian translation 1992). A popular lyricist is Izet Sarajlić (1930–2002).
Recent authors include lyricists Abdulah Sidran (born 1944), Ajsa Zahirović (born 1942) and Josip Osti (born 1945), lyricists and prose writers such as Hadžem Hajdarević (born 1956) and Marko Ves˘ović (born 1945), and proseists Nedžad Ibrišimović (1940–2011), Irfan Horozović (born 1947), Dževad Karahasan (born 1953), Nura Bazdulj-Hubijar (born 1951; Love is a sihirbaz, Norwegian translation 1993) and Miljenko Jergović (born 1966).
Several Bosnian writers live abroad as a result of the Bosnia War (1992–1995), such as Goran Simić (born 1948; Sarajevo’s grief, Norwegian translation 1995), Aleksandar Hemon (born 1964), who also writes in English (Where is Bruno?, Norwegian translation 2000), and Munib Delalić (born 1950), who lives in Norway and translates from Norwegian.