Book mark: Jennifer Niesslein’s Full Grown People turns 1

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Jennifer Niesslein has assembled compelling essays from her acclaimed blog into the book
Full Grown People: The Greatest Hits, Volume 1. “The book is a great introduction, and if you’ve just found the site and don’t want to slog through back essays, this is a great way to catch up,” she said. Photo: Emily Morone. Jennifer Niesslein has assembled compelling essays from her acclaimed blog into the book Full Grown People: The Greatest Hits, Volume 1. “The book is a great introduction, and if you’ve just found the site and don’t want to slog through back essays, this is a great way to catch up,” she said. Photo: Emily Morone.

To celebrate the first birthday of her online literary journal Full Grown People on October 4, editor Jennifer Niesslein published a book.

Full Grown People: The Greatest Hits, Volume 1 gives you a good idea of our breadth,” she said. “It covers a lot, from parenting issues, when you’re looking at maybe your kids leaving soon, to an essay on loving and leaving an addict. There’s one about going rafting with a blind person. One is about dealing with aging parents. It’s the whole glorious smorgasbord of what adulthood can bring in your life.”

Last year, the former editor of literary magazine Brain, Child started Full Grown People (FGP) as an outlet to publish essays about the transitional moments of adulthood. “It grew out of my own personal existential crisis about what the hell am I doing now [after leaving Brain, Child],” she said. “It felt like an awkward age.” Since its inception, one FGP essay was listed as a notable essay in the newest edition of The Best American Essays and another was published in Best Food Writing 2014.

For Niesslein, who creates collaborative editorial experiences with her authors and teaches essay writing courses at WriterHouse, publishing an FGP anthology made sense for two reasons: as a revenue source for the ad-free website and a means to extend its audience. “The book is a great introduction, and if you’ve just found the site and don’t want to slog through back essays, this is a great way to catch up,” she said.

Available only through fullgrownpeople.com, book sales have been good so far. “Only three were to blood relatives,” Niesslein said with a laugh. “The most gratifying thing about being an editor is that when you publish, someone is going to think, ‘God, I needed this right now.’ People I know will say ‘God, that one essay, it just blew me away.’ And because I’m part editor, part fan girl, really, I’m always like ‘Yeah, wasn’t that awesome?’”

The feeling is mutual. “It’s an honor to be included and great to work with [Niesslein] because she has such a fresh take on very honest and intimate storytelling,” said Gloucester County resident Jennifer James, whose essay “Under the Table and Dreaming at Hillside House” appears in the new anthology.

A fiction writer at work on a novel, James said non-fiction writing “is actually a lot more fun for me,” a source of connection between deeply personal moments and the universal truths beyond them. “When my first son was born and my husband’s grandmother died,” she said, “it was a juxtaposition of the worst that could happen and how, in life, unexpected joy can happen, too.”

Local contributors to FGP online described additional forms of connection. “I write a lot about my children, and one of the reasons I relate to them so well is I can remember very clearly what it was like to be a kid,” said Browning Porter, a local poet, storyteller, and graphic designer. “But it feels like there’s something in my mid- to late-40s that’s really interesting too, and maybe deserves its own kind of attention. It’s kind of like the idea that we never stop growing up. Even though we’re grown ups we’re dealing with the same stuff.”

Angel Gunn, a novelist and freelance writer, said her essays voice the identity crisis that she went through as a mother. “In some ways I think writing your darkest fears exorcises them. I worried I would be judged for it, but I connected with so many people who got how it felt to sacrifice parts of yourself to take care of other people.”

Susan McCulley, a blogger and movement instructor, said her non-fiction reflects the mindfulness she teaches. “Mundane things that happen to us can be transformed if we really notice them,” she said. “There’s something to me about paying attention to our experiences and allowing them to be meaningful even if they are seemingly small,” McCulley added. “That’s what [Niesslein] chooses. These pieces, even when they’re about a man with alcoholism or a breakup, they’re about me on some level. These aren’t just people sharing their stories but what connects us in those stories.”

Hear short readings by local FGP writers Erica S. Brath, Angel Sands Gunn, Jennifer James, Susan McCulley, Browning Porter, and Miller Murray Susen on November 2 at WriterHouse.