Novelist, nonfiction writer, archivist. Born on June 19, 1953 in Charleston, South Carolina, Greene is the son of Holocaust survivors Samuel and Regina Miedzyrzecki Kawer Greene. After their release from a Russian work camp at the end of World War II, Greene’s parents moved to Charleston, South Carolina. One of four children, Greene attended St. Andrews High School in Charleston. After graduation, he became a student at Clemson University before transferring to the College of Charleston, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1975.
In 1976 Greene began work as a volunteer in the archives of Charleston’s South Carolina Historical Society where he catalogued the papers of DuBose Heyward, a key figure of the Charleston Renaissance and author of Porgy. For the next thirteen years, Greene worked in various capacities at the South Carolina Historical Society. Greene left the organization in 1989 and followed his partner, Olin Jolley, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. During that period, Greene founded and served as the director of the North Carolina Preservation Consortium, an association providing preservation education to libraries and archives. He also taught a preservation course at the University of North Carolina. Greene’s partner, Olin Jolley, died in 1996 after a long battle with AIDS.
Returning to Charleston in 1998, Greene served as the manager of special collections at the Charleston County Public Library and later held the position of director of archival and reference services at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston. Greene is currently the senior manuscript and reference archivist at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library. He now lives with his partner, Jonathan Ray.
A writer of fiction and nonfiction, Harlan Greene created a body of work that thematically centers on Charleston, homosexuality, and Jewish identity. Dripping in historic details and intricacies, Greene’s fiction and nonfiction benefit from the skills and expertise honed in his professional life as an archivist, researcher, and historian.
Greene’s first novel, Why We Never Danced the Charleston (1984), is a gay fiction cult classic that examines the underbelly of Charleston’s gay culture in the 1920s. Greene artfully crafts a southern gothic tale that delves into the depths of Charleston’s historic and dark past as seen through the characters Hirsch Hess, Ned Grimke, and an unnamed narrator.
What the Dead Remember (1991) is Greene’s coming-of-age story. Set in and around Charleston, the narrative follows an unnamed gay protagonist as he explores his identity, sexuality, and the closeted gay culture of Charleston society. The story ends with the protagonist’s diagnosis with AIDS. What the Dead Remember was the winner of the 1992 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Fiction.
Departing from the genre of the southern novel, Greene’s The German Officer’s Boy (2005) is a piece of historical fiction based on the events surrounding the controversial figure of Herschel Grynszpan. In 1938, a young Polish Jew shot Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat. In retaliation for this shooting, the Nazi party launched the Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass”—a destructive and murderous assault on the Jewish community that is considered the beginning of the Holocaust. History paints the vom Rath murder as an act of political aggression. Greene instead follows an alternative theory that vom Rath and Grynszpan were involved in a passionate affair. In a tragic series of events, Grynszpan accidentally shoots and mortally wounds his lover, vom Rath. Greene’s tale of passion and tragedy fills a narrative void in the mystery surrounding the events of Ernst vom Rath’s death and the legacy of Herschel Grynszpan.
Widely considered an authority on the history of Charleston, and specifically the Charleston Renaissance, Greene has authored several nonfiction works related to this subject matter. Charleston: City of Memory (1987) offers up a brief history of Charleston enhanced with photographs by N. Jane Iseley. Greene’s 2001 release Mr. Skylark: John Bennett and the Charleston Renaissance is a biographical account of John Bennett, a writer, expert on Gullah folklore, and a major figure of the Charles- ton Renaissance. Extending his writings on that critical period in the city’s cultural life, Greene coedited in 2003 Renaissance in Charleston: Art and Life in the Carolina Lowcountry, 1900–1940. Working with James Hutchisson, Greene envisioned this collection of essays as a tribute to the artistic flowering of Charleston in the early twentieth century. Also in 2003, Greene co-authored Slave Badges and the Slave-Hire System in Charleston, South Carolina, 1783–1865 with a Medical University of South Carolina pediatric dentistry professor, Harry S. Hutchins, Jr., and his son Brian E. Hutchins. Their work examined the history of the Charleston slave badge system that permitted slave owners to hire out slaves. In addition to his nonfiction writing, Greene has contributed biographical essays to Hometowns: Gay Men Write about Where They Belong (1991) and A Member of the Family: Gay Men Write about Their Families (1992).
“Greene, Harlan.” Literary South Carolina. Spartanburg, S.C.: Hub City Writers Project, 2004.
“Harlan Greene (1953–).” Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.