Arna Bontemps, Harlem Renaissance poet and novelist was born on October 13, 1902 in Alexandria, Louisiana. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California in 1923, and moved to New York the following year to teach at the Harlem Academy in New York City.
Bontemps was motivated and inspired by what was happening in the literary world in New York at the time. He began writing and became part of the group of writers, artist and scholars who were beginning to be recognized for their talent and the work that they produced.
In 1926 his poetry began appearing in Crisis, the magazine published by the NAACP, and in Opportunity, a publication of the National Urban League. He was awarded poetry prizes by both publications.
Bontemps left New York in 1931 to take a teaching position in Alabama. That same year his first novel, God Sends Sunday, about a St. Louis jockey, was published.
Recognizing the need to provide African American kids with positive role models, Bontemps began writing children’s books. His first, Popo and Fifina, Children of Haiti, a collaboration with Langston Hughes was published in 1932.
His other work for children and young adults included: Frederick Douglass: Slave, Fighter, Freeman; and Young Booker: Booker T. Washington’s Early Days.
Much of Bontemps’ work painted a realistic description of the struggle for freedom. Black Thunder, his acclaimed historical novel about Gabriel Prosser’s slave revolt was no exception.
Bontemps would later become the librarian for historically black Fisk University. He used that position to preserve the papers of other Harlem Renaissance writers.