Harlem Renaissance

Arna Bontemps Left a Rich Literary Legacy

A Solid Beginning

Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps was born on October 13, 1902, in Alexanderia, Louisiana, a child of middle class parents of mixed racial heritage--what is sometimes called Creole. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, was descended from French plantation owners living in Haiti and their slaves. After coming to the United States, the Bontemps family lived free in Louisiana for decades, and the many of the men worked as skilled brick and stone masons for generations.  In addition to working his trade, Arna’s father also played music with a popular band. Arna’s mother, Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-ah) Carolina Pembrooke was descended from an English planter and his Cherokee wife. Maria taught public school and enjoyed creating visual art.

Painting American: The Rise of American Artists: Paris, 1867--New York, 1948

By Annie Cohen-Solal

Go to catalog
"Shortly after the Civil War, a resurgent America strode brashly onto the hallowed ground of the Paris salon to present its most distinguished painters in the Exposition Universelle of 1867. Their offereings included majestic Western waterfalls, magnificent portraits, sprawling landscapes--the cream of a nation ready to assert itself culturally as it had begun to do so economically. The Americans sat back to bask in anticipated applause. But their confidence would be shattered when the luminaries of the French Academy condemned the spectacle as being unworthy of the great nation that had produced it. The rebuke provoked widespread soul searching in America: Why was the land of Melville and Poe unable to produce paintings of comparable power? How was it to claim a place among nations producing art of real consequence?

"In this magnificent historical panorama, Annie Cohen-Solal shows how American pragmatism furnished the solution: Learn from the best. The French were then the undisputed masters of painting, and so to France the Americans went in hordes, apprenticing themselves in the studios of reknowned masters-- ... Cabanel, and others--or founding colonies such as the legendary one at Pont-Aven. From the seeds of their individual efforts would grow an extraordinary crop, one that included not only the great--Whistler, Cassatt, Sargent--but a legion of artists of all ranks who collectively pushed forward a bold new American enterprise. In two generations, Paris would be eclipsed, and the greatest French artists would begin coming to New York to be at the new center of everything."

Reserve this title

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years

By Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delany

Go to catalog

"Warm, feisty, and intelligent, the Delany sisters speak their mind in a book that is at once a vital historical record and a moving portrait of two remarkable women who continued to love, laugh, and embrace life after over 100 years of living side by side. Their sharp memories show readers the post-Reconstruction South and Booker T. Washington; Harlem's Golden Age and Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson. Bessie breaks barriers to become a dentist; Sadie quietly integrates the New York City system as a school teacher."

Reserve this title

Story Painter : the Life of Jacob Lawrence

By John Duggleby

Go to catalog
A biography of the African American artist who grew up in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance and became one of the most renowned painters of the life of his people. Suggested for ages 7-12.
Reserve this title

Dave At Night

By Gail Carson Levine

Go to catalog
When orphaned Dave is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys where he is treated cruelly, he sneaks out at night and is welcomed into the music- and culture-filled world of the Harlem Renaissance.
Reserve this title

Palmer Hayden Comes Home: Discovering a Native Son

By Janet Payne

Janet Payne is the retired fine arts coordinator of the Stafford (VA) County Public Schools.

This article originally appeared in the International Review of African American Art, volume 16, number 1, and is reproduced here with the permission of this publication.

A. Philip Randolph: Union Leader and Civil Rights Crusader

By Catherine Reef

Go to catalog

Randolph, one of the brains of the Harlem Renaissance, was determined that African-American workers should share the rights that the labor unions had fought so hard for, despite their history of excluding his people. This was a hard fight, but, in the end, the labor unions became strong and integrated.

Reserve this title

Becoming Billie Holiday

By Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

Go to catalog

This biography in verse captures the teen years and early career of the legendary jazz singer. Billie’s penchant for trouble and the hardships she overcame provide a compelling narrative while Cooper's illustrations complement the lyricism of the text.

Reserve this title