Nelson, Anne 1954-

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NELSON, Anne 1954-

PERSONAL: Born November 26, 1954, in Fort Sill, OK; daughter of Ted R. (a professor) and Gerada Elydia (an academic adviser; maiden name, Leitner) Nelson; married George Henry Scott Black (an editor and writer), June 2, 1984; children: two. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1976. Hobbies and other interests: Classical music, literature.

ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Offıce— Columbia University, School of Journalism, 604D Journalism, Mail Code 3800, New York, NY 10027; 202 Riverside Drive 5A, New York, NY 10025-7265; fax: 212-865-1213. Agent—Geri Thoma, Elaine Markson Literary Agency Inc., 44 Greenwich Ave., New York, NY 10011. E-mail—[email protected];[email protected].

CAREER: New Yorker, New York, NY, editorial assistant, 1976-77; free-lance writer specializing in Latin America and the Caribbean, based in New York, NY, and Washington, DC, 1977-80; Maclean's, Canada, reporter, 1980-83. On-camera news analyst for Public Broadcasting Service programs "Frontline," "Inside Story," and "MacNeil/Lehrer Report," 1981-83; associate producer for New York bureau of Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1983-84; consultant to Americas Watch (human rights organization), 1985-86. Executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists, 1989—; director, international program, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, 1995—. Lecturer at colleges and universities; director, Maria Moors Cabot Awards.

MEMBER: PEN, Council on Foreign Relations.

AWARDS, HONORS: Best Feature Article for 1983 and Honorable Mention for photography, both from Associated Church Press, 1983, both for "El Salvador's Struggle: The Revolution Has a History," published in Christianity and Crisis; Royal Television Society Award for best documentary, Royal Television Society (United Kingdom), 1984, for In Search of a Brother; Thomas More Storke Award for best international reporting in a magazine, 1988, for article on the Philippines; Livingston Award for best international reporting by an American journalist under thirty-five, 1989, for article on the Philippines; Professional Excellence Award, American Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1993.


Human Rights in Honduras after General Alvarez, Americas Watch Committee (New York, NY), 1986.

(Translator and editor, with Jorge Valls) Twenty Years and Forty Days: Memoirs of a Cuban Political Prisoner, Human Rights Watch (New York, NY), 1986.

Murder under Two Flags: The U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1986.

The Guys (play; first produced in New York, NY, 2001), Random House (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Jim Simpson) The Guys (screenplay based on Nelson's play of the same title), Focus Features, 2002.

Contributor to publications such as Maclean's, Los Angeles Times, Columbia Journalism Review, Mother Jones, New York Times, and Nation. Author of articles on Latin America and the Caribbean for Life, Rolling Stone, Harper's, Christianity and Crisis, Baltimore Sun, and other periodicals. Photography published in New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and other periodicals.

Contributor to volumes such as El Salvador: Central America in the New Cold War, edited by Marvin E. Gettleman and others, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1981; Trouble in Our Backyard, edited by Martin Diskin, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983; Encyclopedia of Political Systems and Parties, edited by George Delury, Facts on File (New York, NY), 1983; and Puerto Rico's Political Status, edited by Pamela Falk, Lexington Books (Lanham, MD), 1985.

Producer of radio and television documentaries, news reports, and related material.

ADAPTATIONS: Murder under Two Flags: The U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up was produced as a Hollywood feature film entitled Show of Force, 1990.

SIDELIGHTS: Murder under Two Flags: The U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up is Anne Nelson's account of the Cerro Maravilla incident, a public scandal in Puerto Rico that some critics have likened to the White House cover-up attempt in the Watergate affair during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon in the United States. According to Nelson, a police informer lured two young dissidents named Carlos Soto and Arnaldo Rosado to Cerro Maravilla, a hill outside the Puerto Rican city of Ponce. There police shot and killed them. The local government's report of their deaths, echoed by U.S. Department of Justice officials, called the two men terrorists and claimed that the police acted in self-defense. But an investigation by civil rights workers and journalists—Nelson among them—held that Soto and Rosado were murdered for their involvement in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence from the United States.

Augusta Dwyer of the Toronto Globe and Mail called Murder under Two Flags "compelling reading," in part because Nelson places the incident in the context of Puerto Rico's history as an "adopted child" of the United States. First ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898, the island became a commonwealth under American jurisdiction in 1952. Since that time, Nelson reports, Puerto Ricans have been divided between those citizens who seek complete autonomy and those who favor continued ties to the United States. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Frank Del Olmo noted that the bitterness of the controversy in Puerto Rico contrasts sharply to the general indifference of Americans concerning the issue. Nelson's book, he concluded, "succeeds in raising the larger question of Puerto Rico's future, a long-range issue that has never received the attention it deserves from citizens and decision makers on the mainland."

Nelson turned her attention to playwriting with The Guys, a two-person, one-act play based on her experiences helping a New York fire captain compose eulogies for eight of his men who died in the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. In the play, Jane, an advertising writer, meets with Nick, a fire chief nearly immobilized by grief and remorse, to refine workaday stories and sketchy remembrances of the fallen firefighters into eulogies that Nick must deliver. "No special effects-laden blockbuster could be as heart-wrenching as this simple piece of theatre," wrote David Sheward in Back Stage.

First-time playwright Nelson composed The Guys in a marathon seven-night session after meeting Jim Simpson, owner of the Flea Theatre, at a dinner for a human rights organization in New York. The Flea was a small New York City theatrical venue near the World Trade Center site, in financial danger after attendance dropped following the attacks. Simpson encouraged Nelson to transform her experiences with the fire captain into dramatic form, and The Guys premiered at the Flea in December, 2001, starring well-known actors Sigourney Weaver (Simpson's wife) and Bill Murray.

Some reviewers saw The Guys as a form of necessary catharsis, a healing balm for a city and a nation still reeling from unprecedented attack and profound tragedy. "Through skillful dialogs and monologs, minimal props and setting, Nelson transcended time and space to create a moving, cathartic work," remarked Ming-ming Shen Kuo in Library Journal. Byron Woods, reviewing a Carolina Arts Festival production of The Guys on the Independent Weekly Web site, commented that Nelson's "spare and undeniably moving tribute to the atrocities of [September 11] was vital enough to remind us all of the necessary work the theater can do in the world when it's actually asked to."

With some remove from the immediate effects of the attacks, other critics noted flaws in the play. "Ms. Nelson's script shows all the earmarks of a talented writer who is lacking in experience who could certainly make use of time for a rewrite," noted Bruce Weber in the New York Times. In a review from late 2003, Damien Jacques observed that the play's "writing is pedestrian" and "the characters repeatedly state the obvious." However, Jaques continued, "those flaws hardly mattered to a city groping for understanding and healing two years ago. Then, it reflected New Yorkers' reality." Despite any problems, however, "As a time capsule of the strong, irreducible emotions of that moment, The Guys may be as worthy a document in its own was as any NY Times 'Portrait of Grief,' American flag pin, or celebrity benefit concert," observed Bob Kendt in Back Stage West. Weber concluded that the play, and particularly the character of Nick, "gives credible and powerful voice to a very specific kind of pain that we crave these days to understand but from the outside seems only blindingly enormous and beyond sharing." Nelson and Simpson adapted the play into a feature film that was directed by Simpson and released in 2002.

Nelson once told CA: "Although my educational background was in history and music, much of my writing has been shaped by my experience as a journalist working in Latin America and the Caribbean."



Back Stage, February 15, 2002, David Sheward, review of The Guys, p. 52.

Back Stage West, July 18, 2002, Rob Kendt, "The Guys at the Actors' Gang," review of The Guys, pp. 14-15.

Booklist, August, 2002, Ray Olson, review of TheGuys, p. 1912.

Daily Variety, April 4, 2002, Charles Lyons, "Content to film 9/11 Play," pp. 3-4.

Library Journal, October 15, 2002, Ming-ming Shen Kuo, review of The Guys, pp. 72-73.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 30, 2003, Damien Jaques, "Grief No Longer Masks Guys Flaws," review of The Guys, p. 7B.

New York Times, January 28, 2002, Bruce Weber, "Standing In for New Yorkers; Expressions of Grief over Sept. 11," review of The Guys, p. E1.

Reference Services Review, February, 1996, review of Murder under Two Flags: The U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up, p. 65.


Columbia News Web site, (December 13, 2001), Jo Kadlecek, "The WTC Tragedy Turned Journalism Professor Anne Nelson into a Playwright," profile of Anne Nelson.

Independent Weekly Web site, (September 18, 2002), Byron Woods, "The Working Stage: A Musical and a Drama Probe the Real Labor the Theater Can—and Should—Do," review of The Guys.

Telegraph Web site (London), (December 8, 2002), Sam Leith, "The Fire Captain and Me," profile of Anne Nelson.*