Literature exists in two forms: Oral literature and written literature.
Oral literature refers to literature which is disseminated/transmitted or spread by word of mouth. It refers to any form of verbal art which is spread by speaking.This unwritten literature is carried in the memories of members of different communities and it is passed from one generation to another by word of mouth. Oral literature existed even before the invention of writing. It appeared with the human existence in this world. This form of literature includes poems, songs, riddles, tongue twisters, proverbs, fairy tales, chants, myths, legends, spells, recitations, among others.
For instance, the continent of Africa had a long history of oral literature before colonization. Most of the literature of this period was oral – it was unwritten. This literature includes folk tales, myths, legends, epics, animal stories, songs, oral poems, proverbs, riddles and tongue twisters. Those forms of literature were very interesting to children, and the youths were entertained as well as educated by them. Although the oral literature tradition belongs to the pre-colonial period, it must be remembered that its forms continue to flourish in Africa today. For example, performances of oral tales are featured on radio, television, and in films. African schools continue to teach oral literature, and students often engage in storytelling and oral performances in their schools.
In addition, the oral literature tradition has been carried over into contemporary written African literature. Even today, different forms of oral literature play the role of educating and entertaining the children of the African descent through learning the heroic deeds of the founding fathers (ancestors) of their community. This also acted as a reminder of their origin thereby aiding the sustenance of their cultural heritage.
Written literature refers literature which is written down. It includes all written works. Written literature is used in contrast to oral literature. This form of literature is transmitted by writing. Written literature which is the human expression through writing; started or came with the invention of writing. Examples of written literature include novels, novellas, plays, prose passages, newspapers, reports, among others. Written literature is divided into two forms: Fiction and nonfiction. Fictional literature means all works which are imaginary. It includes novel, novellas, short stories, and plays. Nonfictional literature on the other hand, refers to literature which is real or based on facts. Some of its examples are biographies, autobiographies, essays, etc. Apart from those forms, written literature is also divided into three categories or genres depending on how it is written. Those genres are prose, poetry and drama.
Prose refers to literature which is written in the ordinary/normal form (sentences and paragraphs), and follows regular grammatical conventions and also has no metrical pattern. It includes novels, novellas, short stories, fairy tales and fables which are fictional, and also includes diaries, essays, letters, biographies, autobiographies, and speeches which are nonfictional. Prose literature can be categorized as fictional, nonfictional, heroic and prose poetry. Based on its characteristics, prose can be broken into four categories, divided by purpose. Those categories are narrative, descriptive, expository and persuasive. (for more)
Poetry refers to literature which is written in verse form. This means that it is written in lines/verses and stanzas. Poetry uses the language creatively and artistically which creates rhythm. This elevated language creates images and sounds in the reader’s mind; thus evoking feelings or emotions and also stir a reader’s imagination. Although the term poetry and poem can be used interchangeably, poetry is a literary form or an art while a poem is a composed piece of work from that art. When we group poetry according to the content and subject matter, we get narrative poetry, descriptive poetry and lyrical poetry. Different types of poems are haiku, free verse, sonnet, acrostic poems, epic, villanelle, ballad, limerick, concrete poems, ode, elegy, tanka, epigram, blank verse, among others. (for more)
Drama refers to literature which is written in dialogue form. This composition which is normally in prose; tells a story and is intended to be represented by actors impersonating the characters and speaking the dialogue before the audience. Drama can also be explained as a type of a play written for theatre, television, radio, and film. This genre has four categories: comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, and melodrama. Comedy is a funny or humorous drama with a happy ending. Its aim is to make the audience laugh. Tragedy is a kind of drama with tragic events and having an unhappy ending especially the downfall of the main character. Tragicomedy is a drama that combines the elements of a tragedy and a comedy. This means that one will cry and laugh while watching a tragicomedy. Melodrama on the other hand, is a kind of drama in which characters behave and show stronger feelings than real people do. It has a musical accompaniment to intensify the effects of certain scenes. (for more)