Life and career 
Bontemps was born in the city of Alexandria, Louisiana, on October 13, 1902 to Charlie Bontemps and Marie Pembrooke Bontemps, a Louisiana Creole family. When he was three, his family moved to Los Angeles, California, in the Great Migration of blacks out of the South to cities of the North, Midwest and West. They settled in what became known as the Watts district.
After attending public schools, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in California in 1923, where he majored in English and minored in history. Bontemps was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
After graduation, he went to New York to teach at Harlem Academy. In New York, Bontemps became an important contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, where he met many lifelong friends including Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. Hughes became a role model, collaborator, and dear friend to Bontemps.
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. In that position for nearly a quarter of a century, 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.
Literary career 
Bontemps was a prolific writer as well as a librarian. He received attention for his first novel, God Sends Sunday (1931), and Black Thunder (1936). He wrote the play St. Louis Woman (1946) with Countee Cullen. He was noted for the anthology Great Slave Narratives. (1969).
Later years 
After retiring from Fisk University in 1966, Bontemps worked at the University of Illinois (Chicago Circle). He moved to Yale University, where he served as curator of the James Weldon Johnson Collection.
Through his librarianship and bibliographic work, Bontemps became a leading figure in establishing African-American literature as a legitimate object of study and preservation.
Bontemps died June 4, 1973, in Nashville, from a myocardial infarction (heart attack), while working on his autobiography.
Legacy and honors 
- In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Arna Bontemps on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
(Unless noted otherwise, Bontemps is the main author of the work)
- God Sends Sunday: A Novel (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1931; New York: Washington Square Press, 2005)
- Popo and Fifina, Children of Haiti, by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes (New York: Macmillan, 1932; Oxford University Press, 2000)
- You Can’t Pet a Possum (New York: William Morrow, 1934)
- Black Thunder: Gabriel's Revolt: Virginia 1800 (New York: Macmillan, 1936; reprinted with intro. Arnold Rampersad, Boston: Beacon Press, 1992)
- Sad-Faced Boy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937)
- Drums at Dusk: A Novel (New York: Macmillan, 1939; reprinted Baton Rouge, Louisiana:Louisiana State University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8071-3439-9)
- Golden Slippers: an Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers, compiled by Arna Bontemps (New York: Harper & Row, 1941)
- The Fast Sooner Hound, by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942)
- They Seek a City (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1945)
- We Have Tomorrow (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1945)
- Slappy Hooper, the Wonderful Sign Painter, by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946)
- Story of the Negro, (New York: Knopf, 1948; New York: Random House, 1963)
- The Poetry of the Negro, 1746–1949: an anthology, edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1949)
- George Washington Carver (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1950)
- Father of the Blues: an Autobiography, W.C. Handy, ed. Arna Bontemps (New York: Macmillan, 1941, 1957; Da Capo Press, 1991)
- Chariot in the Sky: a Story of the Jubilee Singers (Philadelphia: Winston, 1951; London: Paul Breman, 1963; Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
- Lonesome Boy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955; Beacon Press, 1988)
- Famous Negro Athletes (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964)
- Great Slave Narratives (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969)
- Hold Fast to Dreams: Poems Old and New Selected by Arna Bontemps (Chicago: Follett, 1969)
- Mr. Kelso’s Lion (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970)
- Free at Last: the Life of Frederick Douglass (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1971; Apollo Editions, 2000)
- The Harlem Renaissance Remembered: Essays, Edited, With a Memoir (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972, 1984)
- Young Booker: Booker T. Washington’s Early Days (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1972)
- The Old South: "A Summer Tragedy" and Other Stories of the Thirties (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1973)
Recorded works 
- In the Beginning: Bible Stories for Children by Sholem Asch (Folkways Records, 1955)
- Joseph and His Brothers: From In the Beginning by Sholem Asch (Folkways Records, 1955)
- Anthology of Negro Poets in the U.S.A. - 200 Years (Folkways Records, 1955)
- An Anthology of African American Poetry for Young People (Folkways Records, 1990)
- Wynn, Linda T. (1996). "Arnaud Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973)". Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee. Annual Local Conference on Afro-American Culture and History, Tennessee State University. Archived from the original on 2 June 2010. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- Jones, Jacqueline C. "Arna Bontemps," African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 36–43.
- Drew, Bernard A. (ed.), "Arna Bontemps", 100 Most Popular African American Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies, Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007. 33–36. Popular Authors Series.
- Fleming, Robert E. "Bontemps, Arna Wendell", American National Biography Online, February 2000. Access Date: Sun June 03 2007 00:04:41 GMT-0600.
- Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
Further reading 
- Kirkland C. Jones, Renaissance Man from Louisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1992). ISBN 0-313-28013-4
- Charles Harold Nichols, editor, Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters, 1925–1967 (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1980). ISBN 0-396-07687-4
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