Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Arna Wendell Bontemps  

Pen Name: None


Audience: Adult; Young Adult; Children;

Born: 1902 in Alexandria, Louisiana

Died: June 4, 1973 in Nashville, North Carolina

-- Arna Wendell Bontemps on WorldCat --

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 Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

God Sends Sunday
ISBN: 0404001378

Ams Pr Inc. 1972

100 Years of Negro Freedom
ISBN: 0313222185

Praeger. 1980

Traces the history of African Americans from the end of slavery until the 1960s

Black Thunder
ISBN: 0977988376

Legacy Audio Books Inc. 2007

"Gabriel Prosser's 1800 slave revolt allowed Bontemps to warn of the rebellion that would come of poverty and racial oppression. This metaphor of revolution is at the same time a highly pertinent representation of black masculinity that will reward students of gender, slavery and the sensibilities of the 1930s." —Nell Irvin Painter


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