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. He was initiated as a member of the Zeta Rho Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity at Fisk in 1954. Bontemps stayed at Fisk until 1964 and would continue to return occasionally.
After retiring from Fisk University in 1966, Bontemps worked at the University of Illinois (Chicago Circle). He later moved to Yale University, where he served as curator of the James Weldon Johnson Collection. During this time, Bontemps published numerous novels varying in genre. Slappy Hooper (1946), and Sam Patch (1951) were two children’s books that he co wrote with Jack Conroy. Individually he published Lonesome Boy (1955) and Mr. Kelso’s Lion (1970), two other children’s books. Simultaneously he was writing pieces targeted for teenagers, including biographies on George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. His other pieces of this time were Golden Slippers (1941), Story of the Negro (1948), Chariot in the Sky (1951) and Famous Negro Athletes (1964). Critics highly praised his Story of the Negro, which received the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and was a Newbery Honor Book.% | % | % | % | % | % | % | % | % | % | % | %