An important western voice in The Harlem Renaissance, Coleman taught and published more than thirty short stories and poetry, appearing in The Competitor, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, and other outlets popular with Harlem Renaissance writers.
Novelist Anita Scott Coleman was an important western voice in the Harlem Renaissance, an early-twentieth-century movement of flourishing social, artistic, and political innovation among African Americans. The movement, known at the time as the “New Negro Experience,” was at its peak from 1918 to 1937 with continuing influence long after. Named for its symbolic locus in Harlem, this cultural revolution reflected a larger economic and social movement that involved Black communities throughout the United States.
Coleman, an African-American woman who spent much of her childhood and young adult years in Silver City, New Mexico, was among those working outside the metropolitan centers during the Renaissance.
Coleman was born in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, in 1890. She moved with her family to New Mexico when she was still a child, settling on a ranch near Silver City. After high school, Coleman enrolled at New Mexico Teachers College (now Western New Mexico University), received a teaching certificate, and earned her living as a teacher. Coleman published her first story in 1919 and went on to publish nine others before leaving New Mexico in 1926 to join her husband in Los Angeles. That same year, she published the essay “Arizona and New Mexico – The Land of Esperanza” in The Messenger, a political and literary magazine by and for African-American people in the United States. In the essay Coleman discusses Arizona and New Mexico and the conditions of Blacks there at the time:
“Boiled down to finality—these States [Arizona and New Mexico] are the mecca-land for the seeker after wealth—the land of every man to his own grubstake—and what-I-find-I-keep. And criss-crossing in and out through the medley of adventure stalk the few in number black folks. Often, it is only the happy-go-lucky, black gambler; again it is but the lone and weary black prospector—but ever and ever the intrepid, stalwart Negro homeseeker forms a small yet valiant army in the land of esperanza. And over it all the joyous freedom of the West. The unlimited resourcefulness, the boundless space—that either bids them stay—or baffles with its vastness—until it sends them scuttling to the North, the South, and East, whence-so-ever they have come. For here prevails for every man, be he white or black a hardier philosophy—and a bigger and better chance, that is not encountered elsewhere in these United States.” (Anita Scott Coleman, “Land of Esperanza,” 1926)
Coleman continued to write and publish short stories and poetry into the 1940s, appearing in The Competitor, Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, and other outlets popular with Harlem Renaissance writers. In her lifetime, she published more than 30 short stories and numerous poems. She died in Los Angeles in 1960.
Champion, Laurie and Bruce A. Glasrud, Eds. Unfinished Masterpiece: The Harlem Renaissance Fiction of Anita Scott Coleman. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 2008.
Coleman, Anita Scott. “Arizona and New Mexico – The Land of Esperanza.” Reprinted in Unfinished Masterpiece, Champion, Laurie and Bruce A. Glasrud, Eds.
Glasrud, Bruce A. African American History in New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2013.
Glasrud, Bruce A. and Cary D. Wintz, Eds. The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: The New Negro’s Western Experience. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012.