Educator, poet, and social worker, Clarissa M. Scott was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. Although she died at 26, she contributed to her community and she published journal articles and poetry in Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, the periodical of the black intelligentsia of the time. Her father, Emmet Jay Scott was secretary to Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, the historically black college.
After her early years in Alabama, she was sent to New England where she was educated at Bradford Academy and then, at Wellesley College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1923. She was an active college student: she was a member of Delta Sigma Theta, she played varsity field hockey, and she was a member of the debating team and a member of the Christian Association.
During her Wellesley years, she attended meetings in Boston of the Literary Guild, where young black people gathered weekly to listen to featured speakers, such as Claude McKay. This was probably her start in political and literary projects, giving shape to her ideas on art and literature; and, as a woman of color, with her particular writing talents, she was at the beginning of her identification with the Harlem Renaissance.
After her graduation from Wellesley, Clarissa Scott traveled through Europe. "A Golden Afternoon in Germany" (December 1925) was an inspired work from this period. When she returned from Europe, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she taught at Dunbar High School. She wrote, "Three years of teaching at the Dunbar high School of Washington, D.C. convinced me that though the children were interesting, teaching was not my metier." While teaching, she continued to write, and to publish in Opportunity. Like her colleagues among the Harlem literati, she wrote about Pan Africanism, superstition, and the mulatto, among other topics. She won a prize for one of her poems entitled "Solace," published in Opportunity, in 1925. She also wrote a play, "Dixie to Broadway."
She married a young lawyer, Hubert T. Delany, in Washington, D.C. in 1926, and they moved to New York City. She worked as a social worker there and worked with the National Urban League and Womans City Club of New York, to gather statistics for a "Study of Delinquent and Neglected Negro Children." She died in 1926 of a kidney disease, which was probably a reaction to the streptococcal infection she had had for six months. According to a Wellesley classmate, a "YWCA Camp Clarissa Scott" was established by her family on the Chesapeake Bay in 1931.
Because her life was cut tragically short, she only published 4 poems.
She had a flair for language, good use of metaphors of nature, and she expressed her intensely felt emotions. She had an eye for unique detail, and she undoubtedly would have written more and her work would have matured had she lived longer.
My window opens out into the trees
And in that small space
Of branches and of sky
I see the seasons pass
Behold the tender green
Give way to darker heavier leaves.
The glory of the autumn comes
When steeped in mellow sunlight
The fragile, golden leaves
Against a clear blue sky
Linger in the magic of the afternoon
And then reluctantly break off
And filter down to pave
A street with gold.
Then Bare, gray branches
Lift themselves against the
Cold December sky
Sometimes weaving a web
Across the rose and dusk of late sunset
Sometimes against a frail new moon
And one bright star riding
A sky of that dark, living blue
Which comes before the heaviness
Of night descends, or the stars
Have powdered the heavens.
Winds beat against these trees;
The cold, her gentle rain of spring
Touches them lightly
The summer torrents arrive
To lash them into a fury
And seek to break them
But they stand.
My life is fevered
And a restlessness at times
An agonyagain a vague
And baffling discontent
I am thankful for my bit of sky
And trees, and for the shifting
Pageant of the seasons.
Such beauty lays upon the heart
Such eternal change and permanence
Take meaning from all turmoil
And leave serenity
Which knows no pain.
So detached and cool she is
No motion eer betrays
The secret life within her soul,
The anguish of her days.
She seems to look upon the world
With cold ironic eyes,
To spurn emotions fevered sway,
To scoff at tears and sighs.
But once a woman with a child
Passed by her on the street,
And once she heard from casual lips
A mans name, bitter-sweet.
Such baffled yearning in her eyes,
Such pain upon her face!
I turned aside until the mask
Was slipped once more in place.
Joy shakes me like the wind that lifts a sail,
Like the roistering wind
That laughs through stalwart pines.
It floods me like the sun
On rain-drenched trees
That flash with silver and green,
I abandon myself to joy-
I laugh-I sing.
Too long have I walked a desolate way,
Too long stumbled down a maze
The night was made for rest and sleep,
For winds that softly sigh;
It was not made for grief and tears;
So then why do I cry?
The wind that blows through leafy trees
Is soft and warm and sweet;
For me the night is a gracious cloak
To hide my souls defeat.
Just one dark hour of shaken depths,
Of bitter black despair-
Another day will find me brave,
And not afraid to dare.
Hughes, Langston and Arna Bontemps. The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1970. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1970.
Roses, Lorraine Elena, and Ruth Elizabeth Randolph. Harlem Renaissance and Beyond: Literary Biographies of 100 Black Women Writers 1900-1945. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1990.
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The Black Renaissance in Washington, D.C., 1920-1930s
http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/ | last updated June 20, 2003