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If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson

January 8, 2014

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January 2014 Indies Next List

1 of 10 Authors chosen for the ABA’s “Indies Introduce Debut Authors” program

Spring 2014

Featured in Oprah January 2014


If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson.  In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reinvented the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three characters are deeply bound to one another, not just by the usual ties of blood and family, but also by a mother’s drive to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos. Trapped in a web of Philadelphia family – parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents – and shackled to the needs of those closest to her, Jessica struggles to examine her past and escape to a future for herself.

Raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Jessica Hendry Nelson earned a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.  Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Alligator Juniper, Fringe, and PANK.  A chapter from this book, “The Whitest Winter Light,” won first place in Alligator Juniper‘s national nonfiction contest and is a Notable essay in Best American Essays 2012.  “Here Fishy, Fishy” was a finalist in Crab Orchard Review’s 2011 John Guyon Literary Prize Competition. 

Currently, Nelson teaches writing at Johnson State College and lives in Colchester, Vermont.  Visit Jessica on the web at , Facebook, Twitter

ADVANCE PRAISE for If Only You People Could Follow Directions

“It takes a virtuoso writer to make another familial memoir of addiction seem as vital and compelling as this stunning debut does…unforgettable.”

Kirkus Starred Review

“Jessica Hendry Nelson’s memoir-in-essays pushes the envelope of what creative nonfiction can be. Along the way there is imagery that rivals the best contemporary poems. There is dialogue so pert and pithy you want to jot it down on little index cards and pretend you were the first to say it.”

—Julie Marie Wade, Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures and Small Fires

“Nelson tells stories of family and place and friendship that are both wrenching and achingly witty. Nelson roams her landscape with extraordinary clear-sightedness and audacity. This is a writer caught bursting through the door, calling out to our own great desires to be loved, to be known, to be secure.  What a debut.”

—Meredith Hall, Without A Map

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