Arna Bontemps

A friend of Langston Hughes and a figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Arna Bontemps was a poet, novelist, and an important literary preserver of African American culture.

Photo: Arna Bontemps, photo by Carl Van Vechten in 1939, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, Arna Bontemps’ family moved to Los Angeles when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923 and moved to Harlem to become a teacher, right at the dawning of the Harlem Renaissance. Bontemps immediately began to win prizes for his writing and became quick friends with Langston Hughes.

Because of the Great Depression, financial hardships for he, his wife, and six children forced Bontemps to relocate his family to Alabama for a new teaching post in 1931. Several years later, he took a position as Head Librarian at Fisk University in Tennessee.

Bontemps’ writing is marked by his dedication to African American cultural heritage and anger at injustice. His poetry has been set to music by many American composers, including William Grant Still, and foreign composers, such as Hermann Reutter.

–Christie Finn
Source: Poetry Foundation website

Related Information




Sheet Music

Dark Girl

Composer(s): Hermann Reutter

Buy via Schott Music

Songs of Separation

Composer(s): William Grant Still

Buy via William Grant Still Music

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