Somali literature refers to the literary tradition of Somalia. It ranges from Islamic poetry and prose produced by the region's scholars and Sheikhs of centuries past to works of fiction from contemporary writers.
The Islamic literature of Somalia dates back to the early 14th century, with Uthman bin Ali Zayla'i producing Tabayin al-Haqa'iq li Sharh Kanz al-Daqa'iq, one of the most referenced books in the Hanafi school of Islam. Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan (1864-1921), the celebrated religious and nationalist leader, also left a considerable amount of manuscripts. One of the better-known examples of Somali Islamic literature is Maja'mut al-Mubaraka, a work written by Shaykh Abdullah al-Qalanqooli and published in Cairo in 1918. Shaykh Abd Al-Rahman bin Ahmad al-Zayla'i also produced many Islamic-orientated manuscripts in the 19th century. In addition, poetry in the form of Qasidas was also popular among Somali Sheikhs, the latter of whom produced thousands of such works in praise of Prophet Muhammad.
Due to the Somali people's passionate love for and facility with poetry, Somalia has also been called by, among others, the Canadian novelist and scholar Margaret Laurence, a "Nation of Poets" and a "Nation of Bards". The 19th-century British explorer Richard Francis Burton, who visited the Somali Peninsula, similarly recounts in his book First Footsteps in East Africa how:
|"||The country teems with poets... every man has his recognized position in literature as accurately defined as though he had been reviewed in a century of magazines - the fine ear of this people causing them to take the greatest pleasure in harmonious sounds and poetic expressions ... Every chief in the country must have a panegyric to be sung by his clan, and the great patronize light literature by keeping a poet.||"|
According to Canadian novelist and scholar Margaret Laurence, who originally coined the term "Nation of Poets" to describe the Somali Peninsular, the Eidagale clan were viewed as "the recognized experts in the composition of poetry" by their fellow Somali contemporaries:
|"||Among the tribes, the Eidagalla are the recognized experts in the composition of poetry. One individual poet of the Eidagalla may be no better than a good poet of another tribe, but the Eidagalla appear to have more poets than any other tribe. "if you had a hundred Eidagalla men here," Hersi Jama once told me, "And asked which of them could sing his own gabei ninety-five would be able to sing. The others would still be learning." ||"|
Observing that "some say he was 'peerless' and his 'noble lines' .. are commonly quoted throughout the Somali peninsula", Samatar concurs with J. Spencer Trimingham's judgement that "Mahammad 'Abdille Hasan [Sayyid Abdullah Hassan] was a master of eloquence and excelled in the art of composing impromptu poems which so readily inspire and inflame the Somalis" -- although Samatar dissents on its "impromptu" nature.
One of Hassan's well-known poems is Gaala Leged ("Defeat of the Infidels"):
Elmi Boodhari differed from the poets of his generation in that he eschewed the popular theme of Tribal war and vengeance in Somali poetry, instead wholly focusing on love and composing all his poems for the woman he loved, Hodan Abdulle, which was seen as highly unconventional and scandalous at the time.
Author Mohamed Diiriye in his book Culture and Customs of Somalia, writes:
Among the poets of the past century, a poet who has gained the hearts of all Somalis in every district is Elmi Boodhari, many major poets such as Mohamed Abdallah Hassan and Abdi Gahayr, aroused resentment among some somalis, as they addressed diatribes against the members of a certain clan, or urged bloodletting; such poets are known as viper tongues, and the poems of such poets have been known to cause feuds and clan wars. But not so with Elmi Boodhari, his subject was romance and only that. While the poets of his day where addressing serious subjects such as war and feuds, Boodhari composed all of his poems for the lady of his affection Hodan, who was given in hand of marriage to a man much wealthier than him. Instead of getting literary kudos for his beautiful verse, Boodhari was made the object of public ridicule. Somali society had not been of course devoid of romance either in song or prose in any age, but to proclaim the object of ones love was frowned upon in the social mores of Somalis. 
A poem Elmi composed for Hodan:
She is altogether fair:
Her fine-shaped bones begin her excellence;
Magnificent of bearing, tall is she; A proud grace is her body's greatest splendor; Yet she is gentle, womanly, soft of skin. Her gums' dark gloss is like unto blackest ink; And a careless flickering of her slanted eyes Begets a light clear as the white spring moon. My heart leaps when I see her walking by, Infinite suppleness in her body's sway. I often fear that some malicious djinn
May envy her beauty, and wish to do her harm.
-- From "Qaraami" (Passion), as presented by Margaret Laurence in A Tree for Poverty.
As the Somali Studies doyen Said Sheikh Samatar explains, a Somali poet is expected to play a role in supporting his clan, "to defend their rights in clan disputes, to defend their honor and prestige against the attacks of rival poets, to immortalize their fame and to act on the whole as a spokesman for them." In short, a traditional poem is occasional verse composed to a specific end, with argumentative or persuasive elements, and having an historical context.
The veteran British anthropologist and Horn of Africa specialist I. M. Lewis recounts how in the latter days of the rule of General Muhammad Siad Barre, the political opposition often relied on oral poetry, either recorded on cassette tapes or broadcast through the Somali language service of the BBC, to voice their dissent. When the British considered closing the Somali language service down for financial reasons, a delegation of prominent Somali leaders met with the British, and argued that "much as they appreciated the ambassador personally, it would be better to close the British embassy rather than terminate the BBC broadcast!"
Somalis also have a rich oral tradition when it comes to ancient folktales, stories which were passed on from generation to generation. Tales such as Dhegdheer the cannibal woman were told to little children as a way to instill discipline in them since the dreaded Dhegdheer was said to pay a visit at night to all those who had been naughty. "Coldiid the wise warrior" is another popular Somali folktale with a positive message regarding a waranle (warrior) who avoids all forms of violence. For this abstinence, he is looked down upon by his peers. However, in the end, he manages to show that violence is no way to earn either respect or love. A Lion's tale is a popular children's book in the Somali diaspora wherein two Somali immigrant children struggle to adapt to life in a new environment. They find themselves surrounded by friends that strike them as greedy, only to magically return to Ancient Somalia where they live out all of the popular Somali folktales for themselves. A Lion's tale has also recently been developed into a school play.
Somali scholars have for centuries produced many notable examples of Islamic literature ranging from poetry to Hadith. With the adoption in 1972 of the modified Latin script developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed as the nation's standard orthography, numerous contemporary Somali authors have also released novels, some of which have gone on to receive worldwide acclaim.
Of these modern writers, Nuruddin Farah is probably the most celebrated. Books such as From a Crooked Rib and Links are considered important literary achievements, works that have earned Farah, among other accolades, the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. His most famous novel, Maps (1986), the first part of his Blood in the Sun trilogy, is set during the Ogaden conflict of 1977, and employs the innovative technique of second-person narration for exploring questions of cultural identity in a post-independence world. Farah Mohamed Jama Awl is another prominent Somali writer who is perhaps best known for his Dervish era novel, Ignorance is the enemy of love. Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame "Hadrawi" is considered by many to be the greatest living Somali poet. Some have compared him to Shakespeare and his works have been translated internationally.
Cristina Ali Farah is a famous italo-Somali writer who was born in Italy to a Somali father and an Italian mother, Farah grew up in Mogadishu from 1976 to 1991. Her novels and poetry have been published in various magazines (in Italian and English) such as El Ghibli, Caffè, Crocevia, and in the anthologies "Poesia della migrazione in italiano" ("Poetry of migration in Italy") and "A New Map: The poetry of Migrant Writers in Italy". In 2006, Farah won the Italian national literary competition, "Lingua Madre" ("Mother Tongue"). She was also honored by the city of Torino at the "International Torino Book Fair". In 2007, she published her first novel, Madre piccola ("Little Mother"), based on her own experience living in Mogadishu. Actually (2014) she is starting to write some works in Somali language.
Dirie, Shamsa, "Somali Legends"
Historyradio.org: "Somalia: the literature of a nation in ruins" (interview with Ali Jimale Ahmed)