1939 in literature
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This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1939.
- Early – The Pocket Books mass-market paperback imprint is launched in the United States; the first of the nationally distributed titles is James Hilton's Lost Horizon.
- American literary magazine The Kenyon Review, founded and edited by John Crowe Ransom, is first published.
- American pulp science fiction magazine Startling Stories, edited by Mort Weisinger, is first published. It includes The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum as lead novel.
- Eando Binder's short story "I, Robot" is published in American science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.
- British literary quarterly The Criterion, founded and edited by T. S. Eliot, is published for the last time.
- W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood set sail from England for the United States.
- January/February – Poetry London: a Bi-Monthly of Modern Verse and Criticism, founded and edited by Tambimuttu (with Dylan Thomas and others), is first published.
- February 6 – Raymond Chandler's hardboiled California private detective Philip Marlowe is introduced in his first full-length work of crime fiction, The Big Sleep (reworking elements from earlier short stories), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the United States.
- March – Isaac Asimov's first published short story, "Marooned off Vesta", appears in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine.
- March 4 – BBC Television broadcasts one of the first television plays specially written for the medium, Condemned To Be Shot by R. E. J. (Reginald?) Brooke, live from its London studios at Alexandra Palace. The production is also notable for the use of a camera as the first-person perspective of the play's unseen central character.
- March 31 – Release of the 20th Century Fox film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, first of a Sherlock Holmes film series starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson
- April 13 – Release of the United Artists film version of Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier
- May – Jorge Luis Borges' first short story in his later characteristic style, "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote", is published in the Buenos Aires literary magazine Sur.
- May 4 – James Joyce's last work, Finnegans Wake, is published in full by Faber and Faber in London.
- May 15 – Russian writer Isaac Babel is arrested by the NKVD at his dacha as part of the Great Purge in the Soviet Union, and incarcerated in the Lubyanka Building in Moscow.
- c. August – Ernest Vincent Wright publishes his lipogrammatic novel Gadsby, "a story of over 50,000 words without using the letter 'E'", in Los Angeles a few months before his death on October 7.
- While secretly working on The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov prepares the propaganda play Batumi, which romanticizes events from Joseph Stalin's youth. The project is shelved by Stalin himself, once Bulgakov announces his intention of personally interviewing witnesses.
- Robert A. Heinlein's first published short story, "Life-Line", appears in Astounding Science-Fiction.
- Before September – Following a pledge drive led by Renaud de Jouvenel and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Romanian poet Benjamin Fondane is naturalized French. In September, he is conscripted into the French Army, to serve in the Phony War.
- September 2 – Jean-Paul Sartre is conscripted into the French Army, where he will serve as a meteorologist.
- September 18 – Polish painter, playwright and novelist Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (born 1885) commits suicide after the Soviet invasion of Poland.
- September/October – American reprint science fiction and fantasy pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries begins publication in New York.
- Fall – Frank Herbert lies about his age to get his first job as a local newspaper reporter.
- November – The teenage Brendan Behan is arrested in Liverpool for possession of explosives.
- November 8 – Lindsay and Crouse's stage adaptation of Clarence Day's Life with Father opens at the Empire Theatre (42nd Street) in New York. Running until 12 July 1947, it becomes the all-time longest-running non-musical play in Broadway theatre.
- Late – Captain Marvel makes his first appearance, in Whiz Comics #2 (cover date February 1940).
—From Finnegans Wake
- Eric Ambler – The Mask of Dimitrios
- Sholem Asch – The Nazarene
- William Attaway – Let Me Breathe Thunder
- H. E. Bates – My Uncle Silas (short stories)
- Arna Wendell Bontemps – Drums at Dusk
- Pearl S. Buck – The Patriot
- Karel Čapek (posthumously) – Život a dílo skladatele Foltýna (Life and Work of the Composer Foltýn, translated as The Cheat, unfinished)
- Joyce Carey – Mister Johnson
- John Dickson Carr
- Aimé Césaire – "Cahier d'un retour au pays natal" (in Volontés, August)
- Raymond Chandler – The Big Sleep
- James Hadley Chase – No Orchids for Miss Blandish
- Agatha Christie
- Jeffrey Dell – Nobody Ordered Wolves
- Pierre Drieu La Rochelle – Gilles
- John Fante – Ask the Dust
- William Faulkner – If I Forget Thee Jerusalem (The Wild Palms/Old Man)
- Vardis Fisher – Children of God
- Zona Gale – Magna
- Konstantine Gamsakhurdia – The Right Hand of the Grand Master (დიდოსტატის კონსტანტინეს მარჯვენა)
- Henry Green – Party Going
- Yaroslav Halan – The Mountains are Smoking
- Ernest Hemingway – The Snows of Kilimanjaro
- Rayner Heppenstall – The Blaze of Noon
- Zora Neale Hurston – Moses, Man of the Mountain
- Aldous Huxley – After Many a Summer
- Christopher Isherwood – Goodbye to Berlin
- James Joyce – Finnegans Wake
- Arthur Koestler – The Gladiators
- Richard Llewellyn – How Green Was My Valley
- H. P. Lovecraft – The Outsider and Others
- Henry Miller – Tropic of Capricorn
- Christopher Morley – Kitty Foyle
- Ian Niall (as John McNeillie) – Wigtown Ploughman
- Flann O'Brien – At Swim-Two-Birds
- John O'Hara – Files on Parade
- George Orwell – Coming Up for Air
- Elliot Paul – The Mysterious Mickey Finn
- Ellery Queen – The Dragon's Teeth
- Katherine Anne Porter – Pale Horse, Pale Rider
- Clayton Rawson – The Footprints on the Ceiling
- Seymour Reit- The Friendly Ghost
- Jean Rhys – Good Morning, Midnight
- Dorothy L. Sayers – In the Teeth of the Evidence
- Pierre Schaeffer – Chlothar Nicole (Clotaire Nicole)
- John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath
- Rex Stout – Some Buried Caesar
- Jan Struther – Mrs. Miniver (short stories)
- Phoebe Atwood Taylor
- Spring Harrowing
- Cold Steal (as Alice Tilton)
- Dalton Trumbo – Johnny Got His Gun
- S. S. Van Dine – The Winter Murder Case
- Simon Vestdijk – Sint Sebastiaan (first book chronologically in the Anton Wachter cycle)
- Elio Vittorini – Conversations in Sicily (Conversazione in Sicilia)
- Nathanael West – The Day of the Locust
- Ernest Vincent Wright – Gadsby
- Marguerite Yourcenar – Coup de Grâce
Children and young people
- Ludwig Bemelmans – Madeline (first in an eponymous series of seven books)
- Enid Blyton – The Enchanted Wood
- Edgar Rice Burroughs – Tarzan the Magnificent
- Lavinia R. Davis – Hobby Horse Hill
- Hardie Gramatky – Little Toot
- Carolyn Haywood – "B" is for Betsy (first in Betsy series)
- Robert Lawson – Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin By His Good Mouse Amos
- Hilda Lewis – The Ship That Flew
- Lucy Maud Montgomery – Anne of Ingleside
- Violet Needham – The Black Riders (first in the Stormy Petrel series)
- Carola Oman – Alfred, King of the English
- Arthur Ransome – We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – The Yearling
- Joan G. Robinson – A Stands for Angel
- Felix Salten – Bambis Kinder, eine Familie in Walde (Bambi's Children)
- Alison Uttley – A Traveller in Time
- Laura Ingalls Wilder – By the Shores of Silver Lake
- Ursula Moray Williams – Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse
- Philip Barry – The Philadelphia Story
- Bertolt Brecht
- Mikhail Bulgakov – Batumi (left unfinished)
- T. S. Eliot – The Family Reunion
- Jean Giraudoux – Ondine
- Lillian Hellman – The Little Foxes
- George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart – The Man Who Came to Dinner
- Joseph Kesselring – Arsenic and Old Lace
- Clare Boothe Luce – Margin of Error
- William Saroyan – The Time of Your Life
- W. H. Auden
- Aimé Césaire – Cahier d’un retour au pays natal
- T. S. Eliot – Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
- José Gorostiza – Muerte sin fin (Death without End)
- Javier del Granado – Rosas Pálidas (Pale Roses)
- Changampuzha Krishna Pillai – Rahtapuspangal
- Christopher Smart – Jubilate Agno (as Rejoice in the Lamb: A Song from Bedlam, edited by W. F. Stead; completed by 1763)
- Adrian Bell – Men and the Fields
- Lord David Cecil – The Young Melbourne and the Story of his Marriage with Caroline Lamb
- Savitri Devi – A Warning to the Hindus
- Erwin Panofsky – Studies in Iconology
- Ed Ricketts – Between Pacific Tides
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – Wind, Sand and Stars (Terre des hommes)
- Ronald Syme – The Roman Revolution
- Bill W. and Dr. Bob – The Big Book
- Gamel Woolsey – Death's Other Kingdom
- January 29 – Germaine Greer, Australian-born feminist author
- March 25 – Toni Cade Bambara, African-American writer (died 1995)
- April 10 – Penny Vincenzi, née Hannaford, English novelist (died 2018)
- April 12 – Alan Ayckbourn, English dramatist
- April 13 – Seamus Heaney, Irish poet (died 2013)
- May 4 – Amos Oz, né Klausner, Israeli author
- June 5 – Margaret Drabble, English novelist
- June 14 – Penelope Farmer, English children's writer
- July 2 – Ferdinand Mount, English journalist and novelist
- August 1 – Robert James Waller, American novelist (died 2017)
- September 9 – Ed Victor, American-born literary agent (died 2017)
- October 6 – Melvyn Bragg, English novelist, critic and broadcast presenter
- October 8 – Harvey Pekar, American memoirist and graphic-novel scriptwriter (died 2010)
- October 9 – John Pilger, Australian-born journalist and documentary filmmaker
- October 10 – Clive James, Australian writer, humorist and television personality
- November 17 – Auberon Waugh, English journalist and novelist (died 2001)
- November 18 – Margaret Atwood, Canadian novelist and poet
- November 25 – Shelagh Delaney, English dramatist (died 2011)
- December 18 – Michael Moorcock, English science fiction writer
- January 8 – Caton Theodorian, Romanian dramatist and novelist (born 1871)
- January 28 – W. B. Yeats, Irish poet (born 1865)
- February 18 – Okamoto Kanoko (岡本 かの子, Ohnuki Kano), Japanese tanka poet (born 1899)
- February 22 – Antonio Machado, Spanish poet (born 1875)
- March 7 – Ludwig Fulda, German poet and playwright (born 1862)
- March 23 – Richard Halliburton, American travel writer (born 1900)
- April 11 – S. S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright), American crime novelist and art critic (born 1888)
- May 23 – Margarete Böhme, German novelist (born 1867)
- May 27 – Joseph Roth, Austrian novelist (born 1894)
- June 13 – Volter Kilpi, Finnish novelist (born 1874)
- June 14 – Vladislav Khodasevich, Russian poet and critic (born 1886)
- June 26 – Ford Madox Ford (Ford Hermann Hueffer), English novelist (born 1873)
- July 8 – Havelock Ellis, American sexual psychologist and writer (born 1859)
- August 7 – Leonard Merrick, English novelist (born 1864)
- August 20 – Agnes Giberne, English children's writer (born 1845)
- August 23 – Robin Hyde (Iris Guiver Wilkinson), South African-born New Zealand poet and novelist (born 1906)
- September 6 – Arthur Rackham, English book illustrator (born 1867)
- September 19 – Ethel M. Dell, English romantic novelist (born 1881)
- October 23 – Zane Grey, American western novelist (born 1872)
- December 2 – Llewelyn Powys, English novelist and autobiographer (born 1884)
- Unknown dates
- Carnegie Medal for children's literature: Eleanor Doorly, The Radium Woman
- James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction: Aldous Huxley After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
- James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography: David C. Douglas, English Scholars
- Newbery Medal for children's literature: Elizabeth Enright, Thimble Summer
- Nobel Prize for literature: Frans Eemil Sillanpää
- Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Robert E. Sherwood, Abe Lincoln in Illinois
- Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: John Gould Fletcher: Selected Poems
- Pulitzer Prize for the Novel: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – The Yearling
- Works of literature set around the outbreak of World War II include
- Aharon Appelfeld – Badenheim 1939 (1978)
- John Dickson Carr – In Spite of Thunder (1960)
- Patrick Hamilton – Hangover Square (1941)
- Brian Moore – The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965)
- Anthony Powell – The Kindly Ones (1962)
- Erich Maria Remarque – Arc de Triomphe (1945)
- Nevil Shute – Pied Piper (1942)
- Evelyn Waugh
- Mary Wesley – The Camomile Lawn (1984)
- "History". The Kenyon Review. Archived from the original on 2008-12-30. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- Howarth, Herbert (Spring 1959). "T. S. Eliot's Criterion: The Editor and His Contributors". Comparative Literature. 11 (2): 97–110. doi:10.2307/1768640. Retrieved 2013-09-03.
- King, Steve. "Chandler, Marlowe, The Big Sleep". Today in Literature. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2007). Young Stalin. London: Phoenix. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-4072-2145-8.
- Daniel, Paul (1978). "Destinul unui poet". In Fondane, Benjamin. Poezii. Bucharest: Editura Minerva. pp. 633–635. OCLC 252065138.
- Lawson, Mark (2014-11-01). "The daddy of Broadway". The Guardian. London. p. 18 (Review).
- Cox, Michael, ed. (2004). The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860634-6.