The oldest preserved written work from Guatemala is the Quiche Indians’ sacred book Popol Vuh, written in the mid-1500s. The work, which contains the people’s creation story, history, mythology and traditions, is at the same time an epic of high poetic value, and the most outstanding example of Native American literature preserved in America.
Rafael Landívar, known for the anthem Rusticatio mexicana (1781) written on Latin hexameters, is considered the foremost author of the colonial era. Antonio José de Irisarri is best known for the picturesque and partly autobiographical novel El cristiano errante (1847). José Batres Montúfar (1809–44) is a pre-romantic, while José Milla (1822–82) is considered, with his historical novels, as Guatemalan’s foremost romantic. Enrique Gómez Carrillo (1873-1927) wrote Impressionist travelogues and novels. Rafael Arévalo Martínez is the author of satirical novels inspired by by J. Swift, and is especially known for his short story El hombre que parecía un caballo (1915). Miguel Angel Asturias, who received the Nobel Prize in 1967, is regarded as Guatemala’s greatest author to date, especially known for his romantic trilogy about banana plantations. In his novel Entre la piedra y la cruz (1948), Mario Monteforte Toledo also addresses the problems of the Indians with great empathy. Augusto Monterroso (1921–2003), a member of the so-called 1940 generation, is considered the country’s foremost short story writer. José María López Valdizón (1929–75) belongs to the politically radical Saker Tí group, and is known for his socially critical narratives. Arturo Arias (b. 1950) has made his mark on his novel Itzam Na (1981).
The lyric of the 20th century is first and foremost represented by surrealist Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Raúl Leiva, the main figure of the 1940 generation, and Huberto Alvarado, the leader of the Saker Tí group. Otto René Castillo and Roberto Obregón, both dead as guerrillas in the 1960s and 1970s, represent the youngest, revolutionary lyricist generation. Within the theater, both R. Arévalo Martínez and MA Asturias have written plays. Especially known as a playwright is Manuel Galich (b. 1912).