PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project

© Paul P. Reuben

Chapter 9: Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap. 9: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 2, 2011

American Lit. Chronology

Primary Works

God Sends Sunday (1931)
You Can't Pet a Possum (1934)
Black Thunder (1936)
Sad-Faced Boy (1937)
Drums at Dusk (1939)
We Have Tomorrow (1945)
Story of the Negro (1948)
Frederick Douglass: Slave, Fighter, Freeman (1959)
Mr. Kelso's Lion (1970)
The Pasteboard Bandit (with Langston Hughes), NY: Oxford UP, 1997
Blubber Goes to Heaven, NY: Oxford UP, Dec. 1998


St. Louis Woman (with Countee Cullen) performed March 30, 1946
Free and Easy performed December 15 1949

Awards and Honors

Opportunity magazine Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize (1926, 1927) - Crisis poetry prize (1927) - Opportunity magazine short story prize (1932) - Rosenwald Fellowships (1938, 1942) - Guggenheim Fellowships (1949, 1954) - Jane Addams Children's book Award for The Story of the Negro (1948) (1956) - James L. Dow award for Anyplace But Here (1967) - L.H.D., Morgan State College (1969) - L.H.D., Berea College (1973)

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Abney, Lisa. "Dualism and the Quest for Wholeness in Arna Bontemps's God Sends Sunday." in Cocchiarale, Michael and Scott D. Emmert. eds. Upon Further Review: Sports in American Literature. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

- - -. "Cakewalks, Cauls, and Conjure: Folk Practices in Arna Bontemps's God Sends Sunday and 'A Summer Tragedy.'" in Disheroon-Green, Suzanne and Lisa Abney. eds, Songs of Reconstructing South: Building Literary Louisiana, 1865-1945. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.

Gray-Rosendale, Laura. "Geographies of Resistance: Rhetorics of Race and Mobility in Arna Bontemps' Sad-Faced Boy (1937)." in Gray-Rosendale, Laura and Sibylle Gruber. eds. Alternative Rhetorics: Challenges to the Rhetorical Tradition. Albany: State U of New York P, 2001.

Harris, Trudier and Thadious M. Davis, Thadious M. eds. Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Detroit: 7Letras, 1987.

Jones, Jacqueline C. "Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)." in Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Matsumoto, Valerie J. and Blake Allmendinger. eds. Over the Edge: Remapping the American West. Berkeley: U of California P, 1999.

Quartermain, Peter. ed. American Poets, 1880-1945: Second Series. Detroit: Gale, 1985.

Smith, Katharine C. Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2004.

Wintz, Cary D. ed. Remembering the Harlem Renaissance. NY: Garland, 1996.

Witalec, Janet. ed. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2002.

| Top | Arna Bontemps (1902-1972): A Brief Biography

A Student Project by Melanie Harris

Arna Bontemps was a pioneering figure in the Afro-American literary world. He was one of the first to write for white and black audiences and at the same time wrote on a wide variety of subjects. He was a novelist, playwright, poet, librarian, and writer of children's books (Jones, 12). His success grew near the end of the Harlem Renaissance and he was influenced by the primary figures of the Renaissance including Langston Hughes, his close friend, Jean Toomer, Claude Mckay, James W. Johnson, and Countee Cullen. But Arna Bontemps would not be confined to just literary figures of color, but would also make friends with Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Katherine Porter, and Carl Van Vechten. Although Bontemps might have been overshadowed by other literary figures such as Hughes, there is no denying the contribution he gave to the Afro-American literary world and culture (Jones, 15).

Arnaud Wendell Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana on October 13, 1902 to Paul Bismark and Maria Carolina Bontemps. When Arnaud was only three years old his family moved to Los Angeles. At twelve, Arna's mother died but still managed to instill the love of books into her son. He later attended San Fernando Academy and Pacific Union College. From 1924 to 1938, he taught at the Harlem Academy in New York and resigned from Shiloh Academy to take a Rosenwald Fellowship. After his trip to the Caribbean which was financed from the fellowship, he went to work in Chicago for the Illinois Writer's Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration. In 1943 he received his master's degree in library science from the University of Chicago and became librarian at Fisk University. In the late 1960s, he was invited to teach at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle Campus. Near the end of his life from 1971 to his death in 1973 he went back to Fisk University as a writer in residence (Fleming, 71-79).

Chronology (from Nicholas, listed below)

1902 October 13, born: Arna Wendell Bontemps in Alexandria, Louisiana

1923 Attends Pacific Union College

1926 Marries Alberta Johnson on August 26th. Receives Alexander Pushkin Poetry prize

1931 Published God Sends Sunday (novel)

1932 Collaborates with Langston Hughes to write Popo and Fifina: children of Haiti (juvenile)

1934 Published You Can't Pet a Possum

1936 Arna Bontemps Fellowship Award; Studies at Graduate Library School, University of Chicago

1937 Published Sad-Faced Boy

1938 Rosenwald Fellowship for creative writing and traveling in the Caribbean

1939 Published Drums at Dusk

1941 Published Chariot in the Sky (juvenile)

1942 Published Golden Slippers (poetry)

1943 Bontemps becomes Librarian at Fisk

1945 Published They Seek a City (history) with James Conroy

1948 Published Story of the Negro (history)

1949 Published Free and Easy (play)

1950 Bontemps receives Guggenheim Foundation Award

1954 Published Story of George Washington Carver (bio)

1955 Published Lonesome Boy (juvenile)

1958 Published and collaborated with Langston Hughes on Book of Negro Folklore

1959 Published Frederick Douglass: Slave, Fighter, Freeman

1960 Bontemps at Makerere College, Uganda, Africa

1961 Published 100 Years of Negro Freedom (history)

1963 Published American Negro Poetry and Personals (poetry)

1964 Published Famous Negro Athletes

1966 Bontemps Professor of English, University of Illinois

1969 Published Hold Fast to Dreams: Poems Old and New and Great Slave Narratives; Professor and Curator of James W. Johnson collection at Yale

1971 Published Free at Last: Life of Frederick Douglass (biography)

1972 Published Harlem Renaissance Remembered: Essays

1973 Arna Bontemps dies June 4th; Nashville, Tennessee

Awards and Honors

- Opportunity magazine Alexander Pushkin Poetry Prize (1926, 1927) - Crisis poetry prize (1927) - Opportunity magazine short story prize (1932) - Rosenwald Fellowships (1938, 1942) - Guggenheim Fellowships (1949, 1954) - Jane Addams Children's book Award for The Story of the Negro (1948) (1956) - James L. Dow award for Anyplace But Here (1967) - L.H.D., Morgan State College (1969) - L.H.D., Berea College (1973)

Works Cited

Fleming, Robert E. James Weldon Johnson and Arna Wendell Bontemps: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1978. 71-136.

Jones, Kirkland C. "Arna Bontemps." Ed. Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis. Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. 51 Detroit: Gale Research Company,1987. 10 - 21.

Nichols, Charles H. Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters: 1925-1967. NY: Mead & Company, 1980. 493-494.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Arna Bontemps." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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