Lacquer book cover. Nineteenth-century Qajar Era. Kirkor Minassian Collection, Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00)

The richness of Persian literature, one of the world’s oldest, can be traced back to medieval classical Persian. Beginning in the tenth century and lasting well into the sixteenth century, classical Persian poetry and prose flourished. During this classical period, poetry became the dominant form of literary expression. It was the medium in which almost all intellectual pursuits were expressed, a tradition often supported by royal patronage.

By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, increased contact with Europe, especially with Russia and Britain, changed the traditions of writing poetry, literature, and history. However, Persian-speaking communities, which had for centuries prized Persian calligraphy as a high art form, did not immediately adopt the printing press. From the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century lithography became the preferred medium used to prin Persian books, since it could better replicate calligraphic styles.

During the early modern period, Persian literature evolved to include genres in prose such as short stories, novels, satire, and humor. Persian writers introduced new themes related to nationalism and national identity. Free verse poetry also found an audience among the new literary elites. Prose became an important literary form and flourished in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries. The number of authors greatly increased, and women writers gained much higher visibility. Today, Persian writers, some using regional and national variations of the Persian language, continue to create poetry, prose, novels, short stories, essays, and children’s stories.