Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902–73) was a mixed-race writer of the Harlem Renaissance who studied the black culture of old Virginia and the Caribbean. His works include God Sends Sunday (1931), Drums at Dusk (1939), Sam Patch (1951), and One Hundred Years of Negro Freedom (1961).
Life and Works
Bontemps was born on October 13, 1902, in Alexandria, Louisiana to a black brick mason father and a European-Indian mother. At age three, his family moved to Los Angeles, where he refused to go into his father's trade, was sent to a white boarding school, and later graduated Pacific Union College with a BA in 1923. He moved to Harlem, New York, married, and accepted a teaching job during the Harlem Renaissance, where he met W.E.B. DuBois, Countee Cullen, and his best friend, Langston Hughes. He won poetry prizes from The Crisis and Opportunity there, but moved to Huntsville, Alabama during the Depression, and later to Tennessee.
He began to write novels with Chariot in the Cloud (1929), which was rejected, and became very famous for God Sends Sunday and Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti (1932), a children's book co-written by Langston Hughes. His God Sends Sunday described a black jockey of the 1890s called Little Augie and his losing his luck in Mudtown, a fictitious suburb of Watts, California. His next novels, Black Thunder (1936) and Drums at Dusk, were about slave revolts in Virginia and Haiti, respectively. One of his best known works his the children's history Story of the Negro (1949), a Newbery winner.
He died on June 4, 1973, in Nashville, Tennessee, while working on his autobiography.
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