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The revival of Hebrew as a secular language in late 19th-century Palestine inspired a flowering of literary creativity amongst the early Central- and East-European immigrant community. Notable literary figures of the pre-state period include poet Chaim Nahman Bialik and novelists Yosef Haim Brenner (1881-1921) and Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970). Agnon went on to win Israel's only Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966.

The first native-born authors rose to prominence during the 1940s and 1950s. Amongst them were S Yizhar, Chaim Gouri, Hanoch Bar-Tov, Benjamin Tammuz, Aharon Megged, Moshe Shamir and the poet Yehuda Amichai, who fought in the war and wrote in the heroic style called for by the times.

These literary icons were succeeded by the so-called 'Generation of the State' writers, including Amos Oz, Aharon Appelfeld, A B Yehoshua and Yoram Kaniuk, who were still profoundly influenced by the previous generation and preoccupied with the struggle they had experienced during their own childhoods. Following the establishment of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature in 1962 the work of these writers was translated widely and secured extensive international recognition.

The Likud electoral victory of 1977 signalled a move towards greater social and cultural pluralism in Israeli society, accelerating the trend away from collective, nationalist values which had been underway in Israeli literature since the 1950s to focus even more sharply on the world of the individual. During the 1980s female writers such as novelists Shulamith Hareven, Amalia Kahana-Carmon, Yehudit Hendel, Shulamit Lapid and Batya Gur, and poets Dahlia Ravikovich and the late Yona Wallach came to the fore. In recent years the work of a new generation of writers including Irit Linor, Yehudit Katzir, Orly Kastel-Blum, Etgar Keret and Gadi Taub has had a major influence on the local literary scene and has been published widely overseas.

Hebrew literature is presented at a variety of literary festivals, including the International Literature Congress in Tel Aviv, the Festival of Israeli Poetry in Metula and the International Poetry Festival at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, Jerusalem.

With the notable exception of novelist the late Emile Habibi - who was widely criticised by his peers for accepting the Israel Award for Literature in 1992 - Arabic literature has not been published widely in Israel. However, active literary clubs and societies may be found in Arabic communities throughout the country and both Beit Hagefen in Haifa and the Nazareth Community Cultural Centre organise regular literary programmes and festivals.