Mozambique’s literature has its roots in the early 1900s, and poetry is by far the strongest genre. During the colonial era, it is possible to distinguish between four directions that reflect the political and social situation: so-called assimilado literature, linked to the small group of Africans who were considered “civilized” by the colonial power, “European” literature written by white Mozambicans, political poetry that expressed opposition to the colonial power and a dictatorial direction called moçambicanidade, and which emphasized creating a distinct Mozambican dictatorial form of expression. The latter direction included poets with different backgrounds. After independence, one can mainly talk about two directions in literature, one personal and existential, the other politically engaged and popular.
The most important body of African and assimilado culture during the colonial period was the O Africano leaves (from 1909) and O Brado Africano (1918–74). Here, and in some smaller journals with a short life span, most of the literature was published, except to some extent in Portugal. The most significant early writers are the lyricist Rui de Noronha (1909–43) and the proseist João Dias (1926–49). The “European” poetry includes a number of collections by Orlando Mendes (1916–90), Reinaldo Ferreira (1922–59) and Rui Knopfli (1932–97). The latter, which has also been considered a Mozambicanidade-poet, moved to Portugal when Mozambique became independent in 1975, but his poetry is characterized by the upbringing in Mozambique and the meeting between Portuguese and African culture, and he is an important inspiration for modern Mozambican poetry. The leading political lyricists are Marcelino dos Santos (born 1929), who has also been a significant politician, and Sergio Vieira (born 1941).
But the most significant literary direction is Mozambicanidade, with José Craveirinha (1922–2003) as its foremost representative. He was primarily a lyricist, but also published prose. Especially after independence, he came to personify the new, conscious Mozambican literature. His poetic style and theme represent a continuation of African traditions and European modernism, with both personal and political references. Among his works are the poetry collections of Cheasingo (1964), Cela 1 (1981), poems from his imprisonment during the colonial period, and Babalaze das Hienas (1997). The other great lyricist in this direction is Noémia de Sousa (1926–2002), who in her poems especially thematizes female experiences.
The most important lyricists after independence have otherwise largely written existential poems. Among these are Heliodoro Baptista (born 1944), Jorge Viegas (born 1947), Luis Carlos Patraquim (born 1953) and Eduardo White (1963–2014).
The dedicated and popular poetry, which depicts the social life and conflicts in the new Mozambique, including the civil war, has primarily been expressed in the prose literature. It had a forerunner in Luis Bernardo Honwana (born 1942), also a significant politician, in the short story collection Nós Matámos o Cäo-Tinhoso (1964). Foremost among the prose writers is Mia Couto (born 1955), who has among other things published the novels Terra Sonâmbula (1992) and A Varanda do Frangipani (1996), both translated into Norwegian, as well as several short stories. He seeks to create a very distinctive literary style, for example by incorporating entirely new forms of expression originating in Mozambique in the Portuguese language.
Other prose writers are Lilia Momplé (born 1935) and Paulina Chiziane (born 1955), who both write about female experiences. Chiziane has addressed themes such as the polygamy in the novel Niketche (2002), which has also been dramatized. Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa (born 1957) tells in Ualalapi (1987) about a famous king who fought the Portuguese colonial power. Another younger author is João Paulo Borges Coelho (1955), born in Portugal, who after the debut of the novel As duas sombras do rio (2003) has published four books, Suleiman Cassamo (born 1962), which has among other things published the story Palestra Para Um Morto (2000), and Nelson Sauté (born 1967), who has worked in all genres.
Despite the civil war and major problems, there is an active, albeit small, literary environment in Mozambique, especially centered on the activities of the country’s writers’ association and the quality publisher Ndjira.