Arna Wendell Bontemps

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General Information

Name: Arna Wendell Bontemps

Pen Name: None

Born: 1902 in Alexandria, Louisiana

Died: June 4, 1973 in Nashville, North Carolina

Illinois Connection

Bontemps lived in Illinois at different times from 1923 through 1969. He graduated from the University of Chicago with a masters degree in library science in 1943.

Biographical and Professional Information

Arna Wendell Bontemps was an American poet and a noted member of the Harlem Renaissance. He is probably best known for the 1931 novel God Sends Sunday, the 1936 novel Black Thunder, and the 1966 anthology Great Slave Narratives. He also wrote the 1946 play St. Louis Woman with Countee Cullen.

Bontemps was a teacher in Chicago from 1923-38. In 1943, after graduating from the University of Chicago with a masters degree in library science, Bontemps was appointed head 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, namely the Langston Hughes Renaissance Collection.

After retiring from the Fisk University in 1966, he worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago until 1969 and Yale University, where he served as curator to the James Weldon Johnson Collection. Through his librarianship and bibliographic work, Bontemps has become a leading figure in establishing African-American literature as a legitimate object of study and preservation.

Published Works

God Sends Sundays, Harcourt, 1931

Popo and Fifina, Children of Haiti, Macmillan, 1932 - written with Langston Hughes

You Can’t Pet a Possum, Morrow, 1934

Black Thunder, Macmillan, 1936

Sad-faced Boy, Houghton Mifflin, 1937

Drums at Dusk: a Novel, Macmillan, 1939

The Fast Sooner Hound, Arna Bontemps, Houghton Mifflin, 1942 - written with Jack Conroy

They Seek a City, Doubleday, 1945

We Have Tomorrow, Houghton Mifflin, 1945

Slappy Hooper, the Wonderful Sign Painter, Houghton Mifflin, 1946 - written with Jack Conroy

Story of the Negro, Knopf, 1948

George Washington Carver, Row, Peterson, 1950

Chariot in the Sky: a Story of the Jubilee Singers, Breman, 1963

Famous Negro Athletes, Dodd, Mead, 1964

Mr. Kelso’s Lion, Lippincott, 1970

Free at Last: the Life of Frederick Douglass, Dodd, Mead, 1971

Young Booker: Booker T. Washington’s Early Days, Dodd, Mead, 1972

The Old South: "A Summer Tragedy" and Other Stories of the Thirties, Dodd, Mead, 1973

100 Years of Negro Freedom,Greenwood Publishing Grp,Inc., 1980

Titles for Purchase and at Your Library

God Sends Sunday

ISBN: 0404001378
Release Date: 1972-06

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100 Years of Negro Freedom

ISBN: 0313222185
Release Date: 1980-06-27

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Black Thunder

ISBN: 0977988376
Release Date: 2007-08-30

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Literary Awards

His children's book, Story of the Negro, was a 1949 Newbery Honor Book and the Jane Addams Book Award in 1956.

External Links

Arna Wendell Bontemps on WorldCat

Arna Wendell Bontemps on Amazon


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