8 Best Lithuanian Authors of All Time You Must Read

Explore the rich culture and history of the Lithuanian people by reading the best Lithuanian authors of all time, starting with this list of well-known writers.

Lithuania has seen significant turmoil throughout modern history, having a critical role to play in World War I and World War II. It earned its independence in 1918, which means the country is relatively young in light of European history. Yet the people of Lithuania are full of cultural pride, and as such, they have created a rich literary tradition that continues to inspire great writers today.

Much of the work of Lithuanian authors draw from the turmoil of their history. From the concentration camps of World War II to the rule of the Soviet Empire, these people have been through a significant amount of challenging history. Their writing shows their tenacity and pride in their culture, which is a great way to get to know the people more intimately.

Many of these famous Lithuanian authors have had their works translated into English and other languages, making it possible for modern readers around the globe to experience their literary greatness. You might also be interested in reading about the best Argentine authors.

1. Zemaite, 1845-1921

Zemaite via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Zemaite is the pen name for Julija Beniusevicute-Zymantiene, a writer of novels and short stories. Born to the gentry in the Russian Empire, she was not allowed to learn Lithuanian or play with the local children because of her class. As a young adult, she learned the language, gained an appreciation for the everyday people of her land, and supported the uprising of 1863.

She married another participant in the uprising and lived on a farm, raising her children in poverty, before she learned of her writing abilities, a rare feat for women of her time and culture. As such, she is often considered among the best feminist writers of the 19th century in Europe.

Zemaite wrote her first short story, “An Autumn Evening,” in 1894, published in The True Lithuanian Farmers’ Calendar under her pen name. She used the Samogitian dialect of the Lithuanian language in this work, and she became known for her use of the common language in her writing and her ability to write about peasants in a relatable way. She also had a hand in showcasing the common violence against women in her day.

Daughter-in-Law was one of her most famous novels and is considered a piece of feminist writing of the time. Marriage for Love, her autobiography, is another famous work with an English translation. She is known as the only woman featured on the litas banknotes and was also featured on a Soviet stamp. You might also be interested in our guide on the best Israeli books.

“As life creeps along, so death follows the same way. That’s how it turned out for Driezas’s Kotre: her wedding set the course for her future happiness. She couldn’t please her in-laws in anything. No matter what Kotre did, she was always blamed; whether she walked or sat, talked or held her tongue, laughed or cried, worked or slacked off-it was never any good.”

Marriage for Love: A Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Woman's Fight for Justice
  • Zemaite (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 02/01/2020 (Publication Date) - Birchwood Press (Publisher)

2. Ricardas Gavelis, 1950-2002

Ricardas Gavelis is Lithuania’s first postmodern writer. As a youth, he attended Druskinikai high school and went on to study theoretical physics at Vilnius University. After graduation, he worked at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences physics institute. He discovered a passion for literature when he was assigned to write journal articles and worked as an editor and news analyst.

His 1989 work Vilnius Poker is considered the first postmodern novel in Lithuanian literature. He writes on a dystopian theme, sending his main characters on a morbid journey as they eventually become the ghosts they were fighting. His writing was known for its erotic and fantasy themes, and he brought keen psychological insight into his work. In addition to his novels, which have translations in eight languages, he co-authored the film Forest of the Gods screenplay.

“The dream hovered inside and out, and it didn’t retreat even when I went outside, although the yard was trampled and empty, and parched dirt covered the ground in a hard crust.”

Ricardas Gavelis, Vilnius Poker
Vilnius Poker
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gavelis, Ricardas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 498 Pages - 01/15/2009 (Publication Date) - Open Letter (Publisher)

3. Herikas Raudskas, 1910-1970

Henrikas Radauskas was born in Poland and died in Washington, DC. When he was a child, his family left the Lithuanian area, and he attended school in Novosibirsk. He returned to Lithuania after World War I when it became an independent country. He studied literature at Vytautas Magnus University and eventually became an editor for the Lithuanian Commission of Book Publishing. He emigrated to the United States and worked for the Library of Congress.

Radauskas wrote poetry, and his poems are combined into four volumes. Some of the works he wrote in the 1930s in Lithuania, and others he wrote after he emigrated to the United States. He didn’t follow the typical lyrical style of other Lithuanian poets but instead took a more precise approach to his poetry. He often wrote about fairy tales and mythical beings, as seen in his famous poem “Apollo.”

“The sky is crossed by swallow routes,
The heath is gay with dancing flutes,
And on that scene the sun bestows
The flush that women wear, the rose.
And I must sing the age-old lays
Of men beyond their earthbound ways.”

Henrikas Radauskas, Apollo
Chimeras in the Tower: Selected Poems of Henrikas Radauskas (Wesleyan Poetry in Translation)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Radauskas, Henrikas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 72 Pages - 06/01/1986 (Publication Date) - Wesleyan University Press (Publisher)

4. Maironis, 1862-1932

Maironis via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Another Lithuanian writer with a pen name, Maironis’s real name, was Jonas Maciulis. This writer is, perhaps, the best-known Lithuanian poet. He was born to free peasants close to the Lithuanian nobility in Russian-occupied Lithuania. He grew up without the impact of the tension between the classes and thus did not take sides in the culture wars.

In the 1880s, he attended Kyiv University to study literature but left the university due to philosophical differences. He then entered Kaunas Priest Seminary and the Saint Petersburg Roman Catholic Theological Academy, eventually ordained as a priest. He ended up teaching theology and Catechism at the Kaunas Priest Seminary and working as a theology professor in Saint Petersburg.

It was in Saint Petersburg that he began writing poetry. Some of his most famous works of poetry are found in The Voices of Spring, a poetry collection of his work. In addition to poetry, he wrote on history, literature, and theology. His work is highly lyrical and sentimental, typical of Lithuanian poetry. His work is credited with helping build the national identity as Lithuania gained independence after World War I. “Lithuania” is one of his famous poems that speaks to the history and culture of his people.

“May the Lord of grace defend the place Where the bones of our ancestors lie. May Thy powerful hand protect the land. Where Thy children suffer and die. Shed still upon our home Thy mercy’s light. Still hear us, Lord of everlasting might.”

Maironis, LithuaniaMaironis, Lithuania

5. Giedra Radvilaviciute, 1960-present

If you are looking for a modern writer to explore, consider Giedra Radvilaviciute. This essayist and biographer was born in 1960 and attended Vilnius University in the 1980s. She studied Lithuanian literature and language, then entered the field as a teacher before returning to Vilnius to work as a journalist. She also spent four years living in the United States. Today, she works as an editor.

One of the most famous works of Radvilaviciute’s career is her short story collection Tonight I Shall Sleep by the Wall, which earned her the EU Prize for Literature. Those Whom I Would Like to Meet Again is another collection of her essay stories in many different parts of the world, including Vilnius and Chicago. She also has work published in parenting and family magazines published throughout Lithuania. While she is not prolific in her writing, she does show the modern side of Lithuanian literature.

“The summer I came back from America for good, my daughter got a wart on her foot. The doctor, who cured warts with a laser, said that if it were her own child, she would try curing the wart with tetterwort juice. It would take patience, but there would be no need for anesthetics, which apparently do terrible things to the memory.”

Giedra Radvilaviciute
Those Whom I Would Like to Meet Again (Lithuanian Literature)
  • Radvilaviciute, Giedra (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 129 Pages - 06/04/2013 (Publication Date) - Dalkey Archive Press (Publisher)

6. Balys Sruoga, 1896-1847

Balys Sruoga
Balys Sruoga via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Balys Sruoga was a writer from some of his earliest days. Even in school, he published essays on the Lithuanian cultural movement in newspapers and other print outlets of his day. He attended universities in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, where he studied literature. He earned his Ph.D. after World War I from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, studying Lithuanian literature. After graduation, he taught at the University of Lithuania. He was a prisoner in the Stutthof concentration camp during World War II, and his time in the concentration camp weakened him, causing him to die in 1947 at the age of 51.

Sruoga pulled from his time in the concentration camp in his writing, and Forest of the Gods was one of his most famous works. In the book, he describes the experiences of a man in a concentration camp who survives by using humor and seeing the irony in the situations around him. The Soviet officials would not publish it, and it did not hit bookshelves until 1957, after the writer was already gone.

It eventually became a movie, one of the most profitable films in Lithuanian history. He also wrote dramatic plays, poetry, and essays. When the Soviets annexed Lithuania, he wrote a pro-Soviet poem that welcomed the new government.

“A man is not a machine. He gets tired.”

Balys Sruoga, Forest of the Gods
Forest of the Gods
  • Hardcover Book
  • Balys Sruoga (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/16/1996 (Publication Date) - Publishers Vaga (Publisher)

7. Antanas Skema

Antanas Skema
Antanas Skema via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Antanas Skema was born in Poland and lived in Russia during World War I. After the war, his entire family moved to Lithuania, where he attended high school and medical school at the University of Lithuania before moving to law school. After finishing school, he took a stint as an actor, landing roles at the Lithuanian State Theatre.

He eventually moved into the director role, directing most of the plays between the World Wards in the theatre. When the Germans took over Lithuania, he moved to Germany. After the war, he went to the United States, where he continued his work as an actor and director and continued. He was killed in Pennsylvania in a car accident.

In addition to acting and directing, Skema was an accomplished writer. His first book was a collection of short stories entitled Firebrands and Sparks, which he published during World War II. He also published short stories and dramas in the United States, and Balta Drobule, his most famous novel, was also published in the United States.

In this novel, he explores the life of a fictional exiled Lithuanian poet who performs menial work in the United States, making it somewhat autobiographical. This was one of the first novels to use stream-of-consciousness writing in the Lithuanian language. Discover more by reading our guide with the best American authors!

Forty-seven dead in an airplane crash. Fun. 7,038,456 needles sold. Fun. Tonight Mister X got lucky three times. Fun. Today Miss Y died once. Fun. Right now I’m alone and I’ll take a pill and have more fun.”

Antanas Škėma, Balta Drobule
White Shroud
  • Skema, Antanas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 212 Pages - 10/15/2018 (Publication Date) - Vagabond Voices (Publisher)