Anita Scott Coleman (1890-1960) remains an unsung heroine of the Harlem Renaissance. She was a prolific writer whose works encapsulated the spirit of her time. From the deserts of New Mexico to the bustling streets of Harlem, Coleman's pen was alive with insight and imagination, while her voice echoed the cries and joys of her people.
Born on February 27, 1890, in Guaymas, Mexico, to African American parents, Coleman spent her childhood in Silver City, New Mexico. Her father, John Scott, was a buffalo soldier, while her mother, Eliza Scott, was a teacher. Coleman's upbringing was enriched with multicultural perspectives, a blend of African, Mexican, and Native American influences, which would later infuse her writings with profound depth.
Like her mother, Coleman was passionate about education and the power of the written word. She received her teaching certificate from New Mexico's State Normal School (now Western New Mexico University) in 1911 and started her teaching career in the African American community of Blackdom, New Mexico. During this time, she began to engage with African American literature and soon discovered her ability to create profound narratives.
Her writing career blossomed in the 1920s, a period coinciding with the Harlem Renaissance-an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York. Coleman's work, however, demonstrated that the Harlem Renaissance wasn't confined to the geographic location of Harlem, but instead, was a diasporic movement embracing Black voices from various backgrounds and regions.
Even though she was physically detached from the Harlem hub, she stayed connected through her literary contributions, publishing numerous short stories, plays, and poems in national magazines such as "The Crisis," "Opportunity," and "The Messenger." These were notable platforms for African American writers during the Harlem Renaissance.
Her poetry spoke directly to the ethos of the Harlem Renaissance, capturing the African American experience's realities and aspirations. Works such as "The Mystic," a poem showcasing the deep spiritual heritage of African Americans, or "Violets," a sonnet sequence celebrating black womanhood, are prime examples of her thematic dexterity. Her unique blend of racial pride, celebration of heritage, and frank examination of the Black experience found resonance among her contemporaries and readers.
Moreover, Coleman was an innovator. Her style didn't just mimic the literary conventions of the time; instead, she infused them with her unique perspective. Coleman's writings often drew from her lived experiences and the regional landscapes she knew well, giving voice to African Americans outside the urban landscapes typically portrayed during the Harlem Renaissance.
She also used her writing as a platform for social criticism. Her short stories and plays frequently grappled with the harsh realities of racism and discrimination while highlighting the resilience and strength of the African American community. For example, her play "Plumes," featured in the 1927 anthology "Caroling Dusk," portrays the emotional torment of a woman dealing with societal prejudice against her biracial child.
Despite her significant contributions to the Harlem Renaissance and African American literature, Coleman's work has been historically overshadowed by her more well-known contemporaries. Perhaps this was due to her geographical distance from the epicenter of the movement, or perhaps because her voice echoed from the less-documented corners of the African American experience. Regardless, her contribution deserves recognition, and modern literary scholars are beginning to reassess and highlight her vital role in the movement.
Her life was marked by quiet determination and creativity. She continued to write and publish until her death in 1960 in Los Angeles, California. Posthumously, her work has been included in anthologies such as "Harlem's Glory: Black Women Writing, 1900-1950" and "The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1899-1967," affirming her status as a significant figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
Anita Scott Coleman's life and work continue to remind us that the Harlem Renaissance was a far-reaching and inclusive movement. Her writings resonate with the beauty and strength of African American culture, often seen from a perspective outside the popularized urban landscape. Through her poetry and prose, she carved a path that reflects the vast, diverse experience of African American life, extending the boundaries of the Harlem Renaissance and leaving a rich, nuanced legacy.
In celebrating Coleman, we celebrate the lesser-known voices that shaped and continue to influence African American literature. Anita Scott Coleman's life serves as a testament to the power of words and the impact of the individual voice, showcasing that creativity can indeed bloom anywhere, even in the quiet desert landscapes of New Mexico, reaching as far as the bustling streets of Harlem.
Poems - 10 in all
Anita Scott Coleman
Of Growing Older
On Being Taken for Granted