Authors Emeritus: Arna Bontemps

Arna BontempsBorn on Octo­ber 13, 1902 in Louisiana, Arna Bon­temps grew up and was edu­cat­ed in Cal­i­for­nia. Upon grad­u­at­ing from col­lege he accept­ed a teach­ing posi­tion in New York City, where he became friends with sev­er­al oth­er writ­ers and edu­ca­tors, includ­ing Langston Hughes.

Bon­temps would become, along with Hugh­es, one of the influ­en­tial artists of the Harlem Renais­sance who would expand the pres­ence of African Amer­i­can writ­ers in children’s lit­er­a­ture. From 1932 until his death in 1973 Bon­temps was one of the most pro­lif­ic African Amer­i­can children’s authors, pub­lish­ing con­tem­po­rary, his­tor­i­cal, and fan­ta­sy fic­tion as well as pic­ture books, biogra­phies, tall tales, and a poet­ry anthol­o­gy. His 1948 non­fic­tion book, The Sto­ry of the Negro, won a New­bery Honor.

bk_PopoBon­temps’ first book for chil­dren, Popo and Fifi­na, was a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Hugh­es, and was illus­trat­ed by E. Simms Camp­bell, an African Amer­i­can artist. Upon the pub­li­ca­tion of Bon­tremps’ 1937 nov­el, Sad-Faced Boy, Bon­temps wrote to Hugh­es that he believed he’d writ­ten the “first Harlem sto­ry for children.”

In 1941 Bon­temps pub­lished Gold­en Slip­pers, the first com­pre­hen­sive anthol­o­gy of poet­ry for chil­dren fea­tur­ing Black poets. His 1951 nov­el Char­i­ot in the Sky is a fic­tion­al­ized sto­ry of the first Fisk Jubilee Singers, who intro­duced Negro spir­i­tu­als to the con­cert stage. At the time he wrote the nov­el, Bon­temps was a librar­i­an at Fisk University.

bk_StoryNegroBon­temps also wrote poet­ry and fic­tion for adults.

His family’s old Louisiana home is now the Arna Bon­temps African Amer­i­can Muse­um and Cul­tur­al Arts Center.

Arna Bon­tremps died from a heart attack on June 4, 1973.

—Mar­sha Qualey

For more Authors Emer­i­tus bios please vis­it the AE index.


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