“I’d always had this vague idea of wanting to be a writer, but it took years of tinkering and exploration for me to understand what that might mean or look like for me,” says Jennifer Nissley ’10.
Jennifer’s debut novel, The Mythic Koda Rose, was published by Simon & Schuster in July 2021.
It’s the story of teenage Koda Rose, who is in love with her best friend Lindsey and on a quest to learn more about her deceased rock star father.
“Being a young adult is so weird,” said Jennifer, about her fondness for YA characters and readers. “Our culture fetishizes youth while simultaneously telling teenagers that their problems aren’t important. In my work, I hope kids will see some of their own experiences — whether it’s pining for a crush from afar, or feeling lost in your own skin — validated, and reflected back at them.”
Pre-publication, Jennifer’s years of “tinkering and exploration” included a bachelor’s degree in English at Russell Sage College, then a competitive MFA program and a disciplined routine of writing every day before heading out to teach at night.
Her high school guidance counselor put Sage on her radar, when she nominated Jennifer for a scholarship.
“That was exciting enough,” Jennifer said, “but when I visited the campus in downtown Troy my junior year, I was completely sold! I loved the park and the old buildings and friendly, supportive atmosphere.”
English Professors Shealeen Meaney and Tonya Moutray and Sociology Professor Michelle Napierski-Prancl “encouraged me to interrogate the oppressively white, straight and male-driven world I’d grown up thinking was normal,” she continued.
“Those were the first baby steps toward realizing I was gay, and coming out.”
After graduating from Sage — and being accepted at several Master of Fine Arts programs — Jennifer earned her MFA in fiction at Stony Brook Southampton.
“It can be so intimidating sitting in a room full of talented writers waiting to dissect your story or poem,” she said of graduate school, “but thanks to Sage, I never doubted that I deserved to be among them.”
With Koda Rose out in the world, Jennifer is finishing her second novel, which she describes as “wonderfully queer as Koda.” It will be published in summer 2023.
“I spend most of the morning and afternoons writing in as much quiet as my Queens apartment will afford me,” she said. “I mutter the lines I’m typing to myself as I work; I like to hear how words rub against each other before I set them down on the page.”
At night, Jennifer is an instructor at a developmental reading and writing program in New York City.
“I have the privilege of introducing students to the basics of college-level reading and essay writing,” she said. “I love seeing my students challenge themselves and grow over the semester. The best part is always at the end, when they move on to credit classes with confidence.”
On Sept. 16, Jennifer will return to Sage to share advice and encouragement with aspiring writers in Sage’s English, Language and Culture program.
“NEVER. GIVE. UP. Don’t stop writing. Even when everything conspires to make you feel like you should stop. Keep going,” she said. “Show your work to people you trust (and ONLY people you trust, who are as invested in your growth and success as you are!) and keep a folder of rejection letters so you can laugh at them later. Believe in your ideas. If you don’t, who else is going to?”
Visit https://jennifernissley.com for more about Jennifer and links to purchase The Mythic Koda Rose.