Throughout history, Azerbaijani literature has taken shape in two distinct forms: oral folk traditions and written works. Both expressions of local thought developed under unique influences, and both continue to serve as beautiful examples of the creative, passionate bent of the Azerbaijani people.
Oral folklore developed under the influence of the Turkic language and mentality, which historically was intimately connected to the soulful songs of skillful minstrels called ashugs. Alongside this tradition, Azerbaijani epics began to truly take shape in the 13th–15th centuries with masterpieces such as Book of Dede Korkut.
In contrast, written literature developed under distinct Persian and Arabic influence. Prominent Azerbaijani authors whose works accelerated the development of local literature in the 14th-17th centuries included Gazi Burhanaddin and Immadim Nessimi, both of whom heavily relied upon poetry in their writings.
In the 19th century, Azerbaijani literature was heavily influenced by Russian thought, and during the Soviet era of the early to mid-20th century, many Azerbaijani writers were forced to become mouthpieces for Soviet propaganda. After Stalin's death, however, the near-exclusive focus on propaganda faded, and writers were once again at liberty to branch out in new directions. Many authors of that time chose to focus their efforts on uplifting prose that would be a source of hope to Azerbaijanis living under the totalitarian regime.
Today, one of the most widely-recognized pieces of Azerbaijani literature is Ali and Nino: A Love Story, which was first published in 1937 in Vienna under the pseudonym Kurban Said. The novel follows the relationship between a Muslim Azerbaijani noble and a Christian Georgian princess as they fight for their place in the world while coming to terms with the beliefs of their lover. Although originally written in the Azerbaijani language, it has now been translated into over 30 languages and has gained international acclaim.
For anyone interested in Azerbaijani literature, the works of the brilliant 12th-century poet Nizami Ganjavi are a must. As the most famous Azerbaijani poet in history, his legacy is widely celebrated in the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature in Baku and in his hometown of Ganja.