Writer, playwright. The first African American South Carolina woman to publish a novel, Nelson was born in Darlington County on December 5, 1902. She was the eldest of fourteen children born to Sylvester and Nancy Greene and received education at a school on the Parrots’ Plantation. Nelson overcame an impoverished childhood and later attended Benedict College and earned a degree in both education and nursing from Voorhees College in 1923. At age eighty, she took courses in drama at the University of South Carolina. She taught school in Darlington and Richland Counties and worked as a nurse for several Columbia area hospitals for almost twenty years.
Nelson’s public writing career began in 1925 when her poem “What Do You Think of Mother” was published in the Palmetto Leader newspaper. She later wrote three novels: After the Storm (1942), The Dawn Appears (1944), and Don’t Walk on My Dreams (1961). All three were reprinted in 1976. To Paw with Love is an autobiographical account of her own upbringing. Nelson wrote two plays as well: Weary Fireside Blues, produced off-Broadway, and The Parrots’ Plantation. In the early 1990s, just prior to her death, she worked on her manuscript Eighty, So What? using the optimistic tone for which her writing was known.
Set in the South Carolina environment she grew up in, Nelson’s writing typically recounts what life was like for ordinary African Americans of her community. After the Storm is about the people of the Pee Dee region and shows the home lives and customs of black people and their fight for dignity in the midst of deep poverty. Her first novel’s success led to The Dawn Appears, which, Nelson said, was “affectionately dedicated to the Pee Dee section of South Carolina.” This second novel focuses more specifically on the dynamics of white landlords and black workers on a southern plantation. In her 1961 book, Don’t Walk on My Dreams, Nelson again combines her own experience with that of others within her community whom she knew or had heard about.
Late in her life, Nelson was still an active author, frequently traveling around the state to give book readings. She received the Lucy Hampton Bostick Award, an annual recognition given by Friends of the Richland County Public Library. She was also honored with the P. Scott Kennedy Award for her contributions to African American theater. What Nelson said about one of her novels perhaps explains her writing in general: “If a person is going to write, it must be a compulsion. A book, a story is something that must be written so people can feel it, see it as it unfolds. The plantation life was one of my most favorite subjects—the faith, the struggle, the perseverance. They never gave up—the strict morals—the hard work. That is why I wrote After the Storm.” Nelson died in Columbia on December 23, 1993.
Potts, James. “‘Letters to Paw’ and African American ‘Ecriture’: The Autobiography of Annie Greene Nelson.” South Carolina Review 33 (fall 2000): 63–74.