Arna Bontemps

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Arna Bontemps, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1938
Arna Bontemps, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1938

Arna Wendell Bontemps (October 13, 1902 - June 4, 1973) was an American poet and a noted member of the Harlem Renaissance.


  • 1 Life and Career
  • 2 Works
  • 3 Notes
  • 4 Further reading
  • 5 External links

Life and Career

He was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, in a house at 1327 Third Street that has been recently restored and is now the Bontemps African America Museum & Cultural Arts Center. When he was three, his family moved to the Watts district of Los Angeles, California. He was graduated from Pacific Union College in California in 1923. After graduation he went to New York to teach at Harlem Academy, where he became a contributor to the Harlem Renaissance. He began writing while a student at Pacific Union College and became the author of many children's books. His critically most important work, The Story of the Negro (1948), received the Jane Addams Book Award and was also a Newbery Honor Book. He is probably best known for the 1931 novel God Sends Sunday. He also wrote the 1946 play St. Louis Woman with Countee Cullen.

In 1943, after graduating from the University of Chicago with a masters degree in library science, Bontemps was appointed librarian at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. He held that position for 22 years and developed important collections and archives of African-American literature and culture. Through his librarianship and bibliographic work, Bontemps became a leading figure in establishing African-American literature as a legitimate object of study and preservation.[1]


(Unless noted otherwise, Bontemps is the main author of the work)

  • God Sends Sunday, (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1931)
  • Popo and Fifina, Children of Haiti, by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes, (New York: Macmillan, 1932)
  • You Can’t Pet a Possum, (New York: W. Morrow, 1934)
  • Black Thunder, (New York: Macmillan, 1936)
  • Sad-faced Boy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937)
  • Drums at Dusk: a Novel, (New York: Macmillan, 1939)
  • Father of the Blues: an Autobiography, by W.C. Handy: edited by Arna Bontemps, (New York: Macmillan, 1957)
  • Golden Slippers: an Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers, compiled by Arna Bontemps, (New York: Harper & Row, 1941)
  • The Fast Sooner Hound, by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942)
  • They Seek a City, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1945)
  • We Have Tomorrow, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1945)
  • Slappy Hooper, the Wonderful Sign Painter, by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946)
  • Story of the Negro, (New York: Knopf, 1948)
  • The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949: an anthology, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1949)
  • George Washington Carver, (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1950)
  • Chariot in the Sky: a Story of the Jubilee Singers, (Philadelphia: Winston, 1951)
  • Sam Patch, the High, Wide & Handsome Jumper, by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951)
  • The Story of George Washington Carver, (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1954)
  • Lonesome Boy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955)
  • The Book of Negro Folklore, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1958)
  • Frederick Douglass: Slave, Fighter, Freeman, (New York: Knopf, 1959)
  • 100 Years of Negro Freedom, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1961)
  • American Negro Poetry, edited and with an introduction by Arna Bontemps, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1963)
  • Personals, (London: P. Breman, 1963)
  • Famous Negro Athletes, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964)
  • Great Slave Narratives, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969)
  • Hold Fast to Dreams: Poems Old and New Selected by Arna Bontemps, (Chicago: Follett, 1969)
  • Mr. Kelso’s Lion, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970)
  • Free at Last: the Life of Frederick Douglass, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1971)
  • The Harlem Renaissance Remembered: Essays, Edited, With a Memoir, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972)
  • Young Booker: Booker T. Washington’s Early Days, (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1972)
  • The Old South: "A Summer Tragedy" and Other Stories of the Thirties, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1973)


  1. ^ Fleming, Robert E. "Bontemps, Arna Wendell", American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Sun Jun 03 2007 00:04:41 GMT-0600

Further reading

  • Kirkland C. Jones, Renaissance Man from Louisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps, (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1992). ISBN 0313280134
  • Charles Harold Nichols, editor, Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters, 1925-1967, (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1980). ISBN 0396076874
  • Academy of American Poets
  • Tennessee Authors
  • UIUC Modern American Poetry
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