Black History 365, National Poetry Month edition: Arna Bontemps

Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a new Black poet every day this month. Every Wednesday for the months after that I will post other Black history figures (I’ll go back to my “first Black” series). 

Today’s poet is Arna Bontemps

Arna Bontemps

Arna Bontemps


From Famous Poets and Poems and Wikipedia:

Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps (October 13, 1902 – June 4, 1973)[1] was an African-American poet, novelist and librarian, and a noted member of the Harlem Renaissance.

Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, on October 13, 1902 into a Louisiana Creole family. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, worked as a bricklayer, and his mother, Maria Carolina Pembroke, worked as a schoolteacher.[2] When he was three years old, his family moved to Los Angeles, California in the Great Migration of blacks out of the South and into cities of the North, Midwest and West. They settled in what became known as the Wattsdistrict.

After attending public schools, Bontemps attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, where he graduated in 1923. He majored in English and minored in history, and he was also a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

Along with many other West Coast Intellectuals, Bontemps was drawn to New York during the Harlem Renaissance.[2] After graduation, he moved to New York to teach at theHarlem Academy in 1924. While he was teaching, Bontemps began to publish poetry. In both 1926 and 1927, he received the Alexander Pushkin Prize of Opportunity, a National Urban League published journal. And in 1926 he won the Crisis Poetry Prize, which was an official journal of the NAACP.[2]

In New York, Bontemps met many lifelong friends including Countee CullenLangston HughesW.E.B. Du BoisZora Neale HurstonJames Weldon JohnsonClaude McKay andJean Toomer.[2] Hughes became a role model, collaborator, and dear friend to Bontemps.[3]

Bontemps was married in 1926 to Alberta Johnson, with whom he had six children. In 1931, he left New York and his teaching position at the Harlem Academy as the depressiongot severely worse. He and his family moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where he had a teaching position at the Oakwood Junior College for three years.[2]

Bontemps struggled to make enough from his books to support his family. However, more importantly, he gained little acknowledgement for his work despite being a prolific writer. This caused him to quickly become discouraged as an African-American writer of this time. He started to believe that it was futile for him to attempt to address his writing to his own generation, so he chose to focus his serious writing on younger and more progressive audiences. Bontemps met Jack Conroy on the Illinois Writers’ Project, and in collaboration they wrote The Fast Sooner Hound (1942). This was a children’s story about a hound dog, Sooner, who races and outruns trains. Embarrassed about this, the roadmaster puts him against the fastest train, the Cannon Ball.[2]

He returned to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Chicago in 1943. Bontemps was appointed as head librarian at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. During his time there, he developed important collections and archives of African-American literature and culture, namely the Langston Hughes Renaissance Collection. He was initiated as a member of the Zeta Rho Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity at Fisk in 1954. Bontemps stayed at Fisk until 1964 and would continue to return occasionally.


(There is a lot more in the wikipedia article, but I chose to truncate it here. Read the full article to get a better grasp on the full life information of this poet)




One thought on “Black History 365, National Poetry Month edition: Arna Bontemps

  1. Pingback: Black History 365, National Poetry Month edition: Arna Bontemps | As Things Go & As I Go

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