Jessica Hendry Nelson

BA, University of New Hampshire. MFA, Sarah Lawrence College. Author of If Only You People Could Follow Directions (Counterpoint, 2014), selected as a Best Debut book by the Indies Introduce New Voices program, on the Indies Next List by the American Booksellers’ Association, named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, and finalist for the Vermont Book Award. Essays and fiction featured in The Threepenny Review, Tin House, Los Angeles Review of Books, Prairie Schooner, The Rumpus, The Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. Editor at Green Mountains Review. Faculty in the MFA Program in Writing & Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the MFA Program in Creative Writing at University of Nebraska in Omaha. SLC, 2017–

Graduate Courses

Writing 2017-2018

Nonfiction Workshop


The personal essay is an ancient form—Montaigne, Seneca, St. Augustine, and Sei Shonogan are early practitioners—with modern applications and implications. We'll discuss the context from which the essay arises and subjects that lend themselves well to the form. By analyzing successful models and exploring the contours, elements, and language of the essay, we’ll come to a deeper understanding of its purposes and pleasures. This workshop will encourage innovative approaches to the personal essay, as well as thoughtful use of poetic language, juxtaposition, and white space. We’ll discuss some of the forms that a personal essay may take, including the braid and lyric essay, wherein a steady accretion of key imagery and associations build meaning. Most importantly, perhaps, we will seek to make sense out of chaos by drawing threads of metaphor and connection across seemingly disparate landscapes. My goal is to dispense with notions of “appropriate” subject matter, or assertions that one must have lived an extraordinary or tragic life in order to write compelling nonfiction. To that end, we will work with the artifice of memory rather than against it. We will approach our work as conduits for awe, not as scribes for predetermined or too-familiar plot lines. Reading lists may include Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Maggie Nelson, Octavio Paz, Italo Calvino, Justin Torres, Sarah Manguso, E. B. White, David Foster Wallace, Montaigne, Sei Shonogan, Anne Carson, and others.