Arna BontempsMarch 10, 2015
Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)
Arna Bontemps was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Bontemps was born in Alexandria into a Louisiana creole family. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, worked as a bricklayer, and his mother, Maria Carolina Pembroke, as a schoolteacher. When he was three years old, his family moved to Los Angeles in the Great Migration of blacks out of the South into cities of the North, Midwest, and West. They settled in what became known as the Watts district. After attending public schools, Bontemps attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, where he majored in English and minored in history. He graduated in 1923. Along with many other West Coast Intellectuals, Bontemps was drawn to New York during the Harlem Renaissance. After graduation, he moved to New York to teach at the Harlem Academy in 1924. While he was teaching, he began to publish poetry. In both 1926 and 1927, he received the Alexander Pushkin Prize of Opportunity, a National Urban League published journal. In 1926, he won the Crisis Poetry Prize, which was an official journal of the NAACP. In New York, Bontemps met with many lifelong friends including Countee Cullen, Langston Huges, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay and Jean Toomer. 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. During his time there, he developed important collections and archives of African-American literature and culture, namely the Langston Hughes Renaissance Collection.