Nerissa Nields has been devoted to the written (and spoken and sung) word for her entire life. Best known as primary songwriter for the beloved and lauded folk-rock band The Nields, she has written 21 CDs-worth of songs. As an undergrad at Yale University, she won the Steve Adams Prize––for community service and the performing arts to the senior who best exemplifies a love of life, an enthusiasm, and a concern for others––for founding Yale’s Premiere American Folk Singing group, “Tangled up in Blue,” which now, 35 years later, is one of Yale’s most popular groups. Upon graduation, she started her own folk rock band with her sister, Katryna Nields. The Nields went on to major label success, garnering a huge nationwide fan base and much critical acclaim. In 1997, at the height of touring, recording and performing, Nerissa decided to become a novelist, and began writing daily in the back seat of the 15-passenger van (with attached trailer). By April of 2002, she got a call from Randi Reisfeld, Acquisitions for Trade Paperback at Scholastic. Randi’s college-age children, it turned out, were Nields fans, and they had made their mom a mix tape.
As Nerissa worked on her first drafts, she began encouraging others to write in short, regular, timed bursts in a group setting. In 2003, Writing It Up in the Garden was born. Today, she teaches students from all over the country in person as well as via Zoom. Her students have gone on to be published by Big 5 houses. They have completed and produced full-length plays, novels, memoir, academic texts, self-help and countless poems and songs.
These writing retreats are a gift to myself and to my writing. They allow me to focus in on my craft in a beautiful and supportive space. The energy of songwriters and writers of all genres coming together and creating is electric. It is place to discover new projects, shatter writer’s block, shape and develop existing work, and convene with amazing people. Also the food is yummy.
Of all of the writing instructors I have had the pleasure of working with, including time spent in the west of Ireland at the Yeats Summer School program, Nerissa has a unique talent and expertise at detailed and authentic instructive feedback. I’ve sat in at Breadloaf, sat in at The New York State Writers Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, sat in on the last sessions at the Frost Workshops in Bennington Vermont among others. Nerissa is a teacher not by trade but by calling. She is a natural teacher and teaches from the heart and I see a deep affinity between how well she listens to all of us as we make our way through our writing and the deep emotional resonance of her music. The teacher’s spirit, her inclination, her ethical compass, her ways of being alert, her ways of knowing are magnificently present in both. Both her music and her teaching are instructive. At first, that phrase sounded stodgy to my ears, but, on second thought, instructive in the sense of orientation. She orients us. It’s soul instruction.
—Kimberly Hamilton Bobrow, English Professor, Manchester Community College