Picture of author.

Arna Bontemps (1902–1973)

Author of American Negro Poetry

48+ Works 1,274 Members 9 Reviews

About the Author

Arna Bontemps was one of many African American writers associated with Fisk University, where he taught for 20 years. He became a visiting professorship at Yale University and returned to Fisk to spend the last years of his life there. Bontemps grew up in the South and wrote of the condition and show more spirit of the southern black in memoirs and in fiction. His historical and topical novel Black Thunder (1936) is perhaps his best known, along with Drums at Dusk (1935). As an active leader in the Harlem Renaissance, however, Bontemps wrote prolifically in all genres and for children as well as adults. He produced several important collections of narratives about enslaved people and African American folk tales. Bontemps was a major anthologizer of Harlem Renaissance work and helped shape the new black writing as theoretician and critic. Bontemps died in 1973. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973), photographed by Carl Van Vechten, Aug. 15, 1939 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Reproduction Number: LC-USZC2-6356)


Works by Arna Bontemps

American Negro Poetry (1963) — Editor — 148 copies
The Story of George Washington Carver (1954) — Author; Author — 104 copies
The Book of Negro Folklore (1958) — Editor — 72 copies
Popo and Fifina (1932) 71 copies
Father of the Blues: An Autobiography (1941) — Editor — 66 copies
Great Slave Narratives (1969) 58 copies
Story of the Negro (1948) 47 copies
They Seek a City (1945) 46 copies
The Fast Sooner Hound (1942) 41 copies
100 Years of Negro Freedom (1961) 30 copies
The Poetry of the Negro: 1746-1949 (1949) — Editor — 25 copies
Five Black Lives (1971) 22 copies
The Pasteboard Bandit (1997) 21 copies
Lonesome Boy (1955) 20 copies
God Sends Sunday: A Novel (1931) 17 copies
Boy of the Border (2009) 16 copies
Famous Negro Athletes (1964) 12 copies
Sad-Faced Boy (1937) 12 copies
Drums at Dusk (2009) 10 copies
Bubber Goes to Heaven (1998) 10 copies
Negro American Heritage (1966) — Editor — 7 copies
We Have Tomorrow (1945) 6 copies
Personals (1973) 4 copies
Mr. Kelso's Lion (1970) 3 copies
Great Slave Narratives (1969) 2 copies
Black Theatre — Editor — 1 copy

Associated Works

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) — Introduction, some editions — 1,456 copies
Cane (1923) — Introduction, some editions — 1,392 copies
Cane [Norton Critical Edition] (1988) — Contributor — 481 copies
The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance (1925) — Contributor — 430 copies
The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (1994) — Contributor — 403 copies
The Black Poets (1983) — Contributor — 351 copies
African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song (2020) — Contributor — 168 copies
The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories (1991) — Contributor — 122 copies
Voices from the Harlem Renaissance (1976) — Contributor — 105 copies
Harlem Renaissance: Four Novels of the 1930s (2011) — Contributor — 99 copies
American Negro Short Stories (1966) — Contributor — 61 copies
Animal Friends and Adventures (1949) — Contributor — 54 copies
Told Under the Stars and Stripes (1945) — Contributor — 38 copies
Don't You Turn Back (1969) — Introduction, some editions — 20 copies
Anger, and beyond: the Negro writer in the United States (1966) — Contributor, some editions — 20 copies
Spring World, Awake: Stories, Poems, and Essays (1970) — Contributor — 9 copies


Common Knowledge



I really enjoyed this book because it gives a glimpse into the life of a boy growing up in the Borderlands several generations ago. I think this book can be good for students because it's speaking to the local culture and lands and helps connect the past to the present. It's also a story about various exciting adventures that I think students would find interesting, including horseback riding, travels across far distances, etc. 4th-6th.
sbutler9 | Sep 11, 2014 |
This book gets 5 stars for its priceless historical value alone but there is in fact even much more to it. Nothing else in American/African-American history and literature comes even close to this volume because to date it represents the only comprehensive collected correspondence between two giants of African-American literature. That by itself is notable but possibly even more so is the span of time, as indicated in the title, covered. Bontemps and Hughes were both stars of the Harlem Renaissance but these collected letters only begin there and take readers through the writers' first-hand experiences of, and reports on, the Great Depression, life during World War II, and the thunderous rumblings of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

They also contain the kind of shared literary intimacies and insights you hope to find in such books. For example, Hughes writes the following to Bontemps on Feb 18, 1953: "If you'll tell me what Dick Wright's book is like (since I haven't it) I'll tell you about James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain which I've just finished: If it were written by Zora Hurston with her feeling for the folk idiom, it would probably be a quite wonderful book. Baldwin over-writes and over-poeticizes in images way over the heads of the folks supposedly thinking them--although it might be as the people would think if they could think that way..."

Whether or not you agree with Hughes' or Bontemps' assessments in such instances, the thrill comes from getting their uncensored straight-from-the-gut responses. This is the case whether they are dealing with literature, politics, race relations, mutual acquaintances, the development of various cultural movements, or their everyday struggles to survive and thrive as literary artists. Their voices as presented through these letters are beautifully undiluted but powerfully informed, and therefore an invaluable treasure for anyone who appreciates the idea of literary camaraderie, loves the Harlem Renaissance, or simply enjoys checking out writers at their unscripted best.

by Aberjhani
… (more)
Aberjhani | 1 other review | Feb 1, 2013 |
An adequate look at the 100 years after the American Civil War. Written in 1961 this work is a little dated. Bontemps was somewhat dismissive of MLK but laudatory of Ralph Bunche. The last 50 years have reversed that.

He spent a great deal of time on the DuBois-Washington controversy. He gets beyond the surface of the controversy between the two. He also notes how the views of each changed over the years, especially noting BTW's realization that segregation was unacceptable near the end of his life. Bontemps had previously criticized BTW for giving the SCOTUS the notion about separate-but-equal doctrine that found expression in the 1896 Plessy decision. BTW had ostensibly endorse separate-but-equal the previous year with his so-call Atlanta Compromise.

Bontemps also explored (much more briefly) the Harlem Renaissance (of which he was a part). It would have been nice to see a more lengthy examination of the renaissance. Also missing from the discussion on the 1920s was a discussion (or even mention) of Marcus Garvey. Granted, Garvey was not an American, but he was a profound figure.

Bontemps seems somewhat contemptuous MLK and Thurgood Marshall. Written on the eve of the explosion of the civil rights movement (after Brown, Montgomery, and Little Rock, but before sit-ins, freedom rides, the March on Washington, and freedom summer), the modern reader gains an insight into the thinking of African Americans in the early 1960s.

While Bontemps is a good writer, he is not (nor did he claim to be) a historian, he had no footnotes. The extensive use of quotes would have been enhanced with sourcing. The bibliography is nice, but a bit dated.
… (more)
1 vote
w_bishop | May 22, 2012 |
The life, history and evolution of the Negro.
austinwood | Sep 19, 2009 |



You May Also Like

Associated Authors


Also by

Charts & Graphs