The English word literature comes from the Latin word Litteratura which means ‘writing formed with letters’. The Latin word Literatura is a development of the Latin word littera which means letters.
Literature is the result or product of literary activity; written works considered collectively; a body of literary works produced in a particular country or period, or of a particular genre. Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Beowulf and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho are examples of literature. Literature is written work valued for superior or lasting artistic merit. These works will last the test of time and remain relevant for hundreds of years. This classifies them as literature.
Literature is the art of written word. Literature can be written in prose or poetry and it can be fiction or non fiction. Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf and The Alchemist are masterpieces of the written word because they make you understand something greater. They address what it means to be human. They engage a complex theme of life render its universal message clearly and gracefully. They explain what is love is, what is a true warrior is, what life is supposed to represent. They sink deep into us and the speak the language of the soul. Literature written hundreds of years ago can connect with people today because both the reader and the writer are connecting to something greater than our individual selves, we are connecting through our existence as humans. Literature speaks to the soul. Literature holds the capacity to move us to the point of life epiphanies.
There is a difference between these works, classified as literature, and other works that are simply written word. The rest of the written word is simply shallow it does not engage your soul. It is noise.
There is a Nobel Prize for Literature. A laureate receives this prize. The recipients of Nobel Prize for Literature are picked by a panel of people. Winners of this award include people like Toni Morrison, Mo Yan and Herta Müller. All of these laureates have created written work that is important to the existence of humans. All of these laureates have won this award because their work has the capacity to represent our era.
"Literature, n.3b". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/109080?redirectedFrom=literature#eid (accessed November 21, 2012)
"Literature". Online Etymology Dictionary. 2012. Douglas Harper. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=literature&searchmode=none (accessed November 21, 2012)