ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



Other celebration highlights will include reminiscences by the late writer’s

son, Dr. Arna Alexander Bontemps, professor of history at Arizona

State University, performances by “The Bontempian Big Band”



Books by  Arna Bontemps

God Sends Sunday: Novel Black Thunder, Gabriel’s Revolt: Virginia, 1800  / Anyplace But Here The Harlem Renaissance Remembered

The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949  /  Bontemps, American Negro Poetry  /  Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters, 1925-1967

 The Old South;: “A summer tragedy” and other stories of the thirties / The Story of the Jubilee Singers  / Great Slave Narratives

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Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973) — born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Creole parents —  was one of the more prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the author of over 25 books of poetry, history, biography, fiction and anthologies. Bontemps was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Bontemps served as head librarian at Fisk University from 1969 to 1972. He was also curator of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale University.  In 1923, Bontemps received his B.A. from Pacific Union College in Angwin. In 1924, his poetry appeared in Crisis magazine, the NACCP periodical edited by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.

In 1926 Golgotha Is a Mountain won the Alexander Pushkin Award and in 1927 Nocturne at Bethesda achieved first honors in the Crisis poetry contest. Personals, a collection of poetry was published in 1963.


Bontemps then turned to prose. In the decade of the thirties, he wrote three acclaimed novels God Sends Sunday (1931); Black Thunder (1936); and Drums at Dusk (1939). Frustrated in his ability to reach his own generation Bontemps to literature for children and young graders. In 1937 he published the Sad-Faced Boy; and others for  young audience included We Have Tomorrow (1945) Slappy Hopper (1946) and Story of the Negro (1948).

Bontemps was involved in the publication of at least three anthologies: Golden Slippers: An Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers (1941);  with Langston Hughes, The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949);  and Bontemps, American Negro Poetry (1963 & 1974 rev.). Bontemps was gracious enough to include Christian’s poems in all his anthologies.

Bontemps’ beautiful short story “A Summer Tragedy” is found often in anthologies. It is indeed a treat. His poems “A Black Man Thinks of Reaping,” “Southern Mansion,” and “Nocturne at Bethesda” are often anthologized. But such poems as “My Heart Has Known Its Winter” and “Day Breakers” are also found in anthologies.

Early in his career Bontemps had wanted to get a Ph.D. in English but with his marriage in 1926 and the coming of six children he had to work. He taught for awhile at an Alabama junior college. With the coming of the Depression he worked for the Illinois WPA and supervised and assisted in the writing of a history of the Negro in Illinois. In 1943 he completed a degree in library science and served as librarian at Fisk University and developed an archive of African American cultural materials that is a major resource for study in this field.

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Arna Bontemps

Centennial Celebration

The Arna Bontemps African American Museum and Cultural Arts Center will kick-off the Arna Bontemps Centennial Celebration on Friday, October 11 and Saturday, October 12, 2002. This multicultural festival will commemorate the 100th birthday of Alexandria’s native son, Harlem Renaissance writer and scholar, Arna Wendell Bontemps. The Arna Bontemps Centennial Celebration will include a book fair, a visual arts exhibit, a film screening, musical performances, theatrical presentations, a birthday party and reception, readings by famous contemporary writers and panel discussions assessing the legacy of Arna Bontemps. These events will take place in a number of venues in Alexandria including the Alexandria Riverfront Center, the Hotel Bentley, the Alexandria Museum of Art and the Arna Bontemps African American Museum and Cultural Arts Center. Among the writers who have agreed to participate is Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River, a novel that tells the story of four generations of African-American women from a Louisiana community [and Red River].. This award-winning novel was an Oprah Book Club selection. Also featured during the celebration will be such nationally acclaimed Louisiana writers as Brenda Marie Osbey, Pinkie Gordon Lane and Kalamu ya Salaam. In addition, award-winning biographer Dr. Arnold Rampersad of Stanford University will also make a keynote presentation on the life and work of Arna Bontemps. Other celebration highlights will include reminiscences by the late writer’s son, Dr. Arna Alexander Bontemps, professor of history at Arizona State University, performances by “The Bontempian Big Band”, the Arna Bontemps Junior Writers Guild, Kedrick Holiday and Frank Jackson of Pineville High School and Dr. and Mrs. Randall Bernhard. The Centennial Celebration will begin on Friday, October 11, with an opening ceremony at the Alexandria Riverfront Center. During this ceremony, Sunday, October 13, 2002 will be proclaimed Arna Bontemps Centennial Day in the Alexandria and Pineville area. The Centennial Celebration is free and open to the public. If you would like additional information please contact LaRunda Hobbs or Joan Victorian at 318-473-4692 or visit our website,

.Arna Bontemps African American Museum 1327 Third Street Alexandria, LA

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Drums at Dusk

By Arna Bontemps

A story of love, violence, and race set at the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, African American writer Arna Bontemps’s Drums at Dusk immerses readers in the opulent and brutal–yet also very fragile–society of France’s richest colony, Saint Domingue.

First published in 1939, this novel explores the complex web of tensions connecting wealthy plantation owners, poor whites, free people of color, and the slaves who stunned the colony and the globe by uniting in a carefully planned uprising.

The novel’s hero, Diron Desautels, a white Creole born in Saint Domingue who belongs to the French antislavery group Société des Amis des Noirs, attempts to spread his message of “liberty, equality, fraternity” in a world fraught with conflict.

Imaginatively inhabiting a wide spectrum of Haitian voices, including those of white indentured servants, female slaves, and Toussaint L’Ouverture, who later emerged as the revolution’s best-known hero, Bontemps’s work reflects not only the intricacies of Haitian society on the eve of the revolution, but also a black artist’s vision of Haiti in the twentieth century, during the U.S. Marines’ occupation and at the brink of war in Europe. A new introduction by Michael P. Bibler and Jessica Adams reveals how Drums at Dusk–even seventy years after its original publication–contributes to contemporary studies of the American South as part of the larger plantation region of the Caribbean, and inspires a reevaluation of assumptions about revolution, race, and nationalism.

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 27 May 2010



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Related files: A Black Man Thinks of Reaping   Southern Mansion  Illinois WPA — Arna Bontemps  Arna Bontemps Advises Christian on a Rosenwald Fellowship  

Arna Bontemps Acknowledges Documents from Christian  Arna Bontemps African American Museum