The emergence of Belarusian literature is directly tied to the development of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets, Latin script otherwise known as Latsinka (Łacinka) and the tenth century adoption of Christianity by the Eastern Slavs. Early Belarusian literature was enriched by deeply rooted oral folklore traditions, as well as Greco-Byzantine literature, and developed in close association with the literature of Kievan Rus.
Literacy fell on fertile ground, in the case of the Belarusian people. Scholars have catalogued a vast store of traditional Belarusian tales representing a wide array of genres that range from accounts of actual events to the fantastic and “tall tale.” The fairy tale is the most diverse genre found in Belarusian folklore, and scholars recognize the folk tales originating in this region of Eastern Europe as being particularly vivid and beautiful. The same qualities that made Belarusian folklore exceptional informed new genres, such as legends and spiritual verse. The distinctive spirituality and oral traditions of the Belarusian people were given expanded expression through the groundbreaking contributions of the cultural torchbearer Francysk Skaryna, one of the first publishers of Eastern Europe.
Over the course of its more recent evolution, Belarusian literature has passed through many stages, including sentimentalism, populism, revolutionary adradzhennie (renaissance), and the socialist realism of the Soviet period. Buffeted as it was by the rise and fall of the powers surrounding it – primarily Poland to the east, Lithuania to the north, and Russia to the east – as well as by Russian imperial policy that at times promoted and at times suppressed the development of the Belarusian language, the nation has had to struggle to ensure its vitality and development. An important role in this struggle was played by the literary journal Nasha Niva (Our Pasture, 1906-1915), which brought together many of the writers who today continue to be widely revered as classics, including Yanka Kupala, Yakub Kolas, and Maksim Bohdanovich. Deserve to be mentioned also such masters of the Belarusian literary Latsinka as Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievich, Francishak Bahusevich, Kastus Kalinouski, Janka Kupala, Ciotka.
No country suffered more from the ravages of World War II than Belarus, which lost approximately one-third of its population and endured devastating physical destruction. Among the authors who have compellingly addressed this chapter in history are Ales Adamovich, whose semi-autobiographical account of his experiences as a teenaged partisan, The Khatyn Story, was made into the well-known movie Come and See, and Vasil Bykau, who wrote prolifically about the war and was nominated for a Nobel prize by laureates Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz.
Today, literary fiction plays an exceptionally important role in Belarusian society and is a varied and vital reflection of the nation’s rich cultural history, oral traditions, and the tumult of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Every year sees the emergence of brilliant new works of poetry, prose, and drama that are uniquely Belarusian in nature, composed by such talents as Uladzimir Arlou, Andrej Khadanovich, Adam Hlobus, Valzhyna Mort, Valjaryna Kustava, Maryja Martysievich, Valancin Akudovich, Volha Hramyka, Natalya Batrakova, Misha Goldenkov, Tamara Lisitskaya, Evgeniya Pasternak, and Dmitry Berazinsky. Today’s authors inject a new element of individualism into national cultural traditions and stand as a testament to the literary vitality and potential of Slavic Eastern Europe.
The stylistic innovations and unique perspective of Belarusian literature have yet to be sufficiently represented in English translation. In the near future, Glagoslav Publications will remedy this deficiency with the release of a number of fascinating and important works by classic and contemporary Belarusian writers.