Nissel, Angela 1974–
Angela Nissel 1974–
Author, television screen writer
How do you make a dollar out of 15 cents? College students across the nation have attempted to answer this question for decades, but one woman may have cracked the code to this musing and even perplexing question during her collegiate days. Angela Nissel, a “financially challenged” medical anthropology student at the University of Pennsylvania, turned her hardships into hilarity and even shared them on the Internet before converting them to print.
Born in 1974 in west Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Nissel was raised by a driven, single mother who pushed her to excel in education. After high school, Nissel was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania and her mother, a nurse, did what she could to help financially. Nissel found, however, that Ivy League education was more expensive then her mother could afford and she was forced to rely upon meager paying jobs and financial aid for monetary support. Because she could not afford the Ivy League lifestyle that many of her peers were accustomed to, Nissel experienced a brief bout with the green-eyed monster of jealousy. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she learned how to change her attitude; and that eventually changed her life.
By her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, Nissel had learned many techniques to stretch a dollar. She began documenting her experiences in a diary; but hers was no ordinary memoir. It did not involve paper, pen, or key. Instead Nissel used a computer to log her economic troubles in an on-line journal—meant to be shared with whomever wanted to read it. According to a USA Today article, her entries spanned a period of October 7, 1997 to July 27, 1998. “I used to write The Broke Diaries for free,” she was quoted as saying on the Metro Connection website. “I started writing them because, well, I was broke and the Internet kept me sane. Being able to combine the two (I used to put the entries on my Website at UPenn) made life a little more fun,” she added.
Nissel’s quest for fun was evident in her entries. She defied her challenges by using humor and light-hearted sarcasm to recount them. Her short entries included laugh-out-loud stories of impersonating student teachers in order to get free text books, crashing a funeral for free food, flirting with the electric company service technician to keep her lights on, and cashing her $77.12 work-study check at a check cashing facility when the banks denied her attempts to hold an account.
In one entry Nissel described an occasion where, short two cents for a pack of Ramen Noodles, she attempted to reason with the cashier. “He told me the noodles are 35 cents. I tried to sound sincere with my apology. I told him I thought the sign said 33 cents yesterday, so that’s all I brought with me. Could he wait while I run home and get the two cents? I showed him my student I.D. to let him know I was not a thief. He shook his head and motioned for me to either ‘get … out of his
At a Glance…
Born in 1974, in Philadelphia, PA. Education: University of Pennsylvania, BA, 1998.
Career: Okayplayer website, co-founder, site manager, 1999-2000s; author, 2001-; SCRUBS, staff writer, 2002-.
Awards: Best New Website, Online Hip Hop Award for www.Okayplayer.com, 2001.
Addresses: Home —Philadelphia, PA. Office —c/o Author Mail, Random House, Villard Books, 299 Park Ave., New York, NY 10171.
store and never come back’ or ‘get the money and do come back,’” she wrote.
Some of her adventures left the realm of funny and went straight to bizarre. For example, as a work-study student, Nissel offered to make a chocolate cheesecake for the office holiday party. A problem unfolded when she realized that she needed more than the two bowls she owned to complete the preparation. Her decision—clean out the cat’s water bowl and use it to complete the cheesecake. “And it’s not like they’ll ever find out. And it was the water bowl, not the food bowl …. They should have known better than to let the student worker make the dessert,” she wrote about the incident. Whether creative, unconventional, or just plain funny, Nissel’s diary entries gained a following, and hers became the university’s second most popular Website. She received feedback from ‘broke groupies’ who could either relate to her entries or found them purely entertaining.
In 1998 Nissel obtained her undergraduate degree in medical anthropology, but her experience with her website led her to explore alternative career avenues. She was able to capitalize on her love of the Internet once more through Web design and site maintenance. In 1999 Nissel co-founded and maintained the www.Okayplayer.com site. While she is no longer affiliated with the site, it continues to function as an online community that brings hip-hop fans and popular artists, like the Roots, together.
Though Nissel had left her on-line diary behind, entries from it were still circulating via e-mail. In an incident of fate-driven good fortune, one of those e-mails ended up on the screen of an editor for Villard Books—a Random House company. Before she knew it, the entries that Nissel thought she had left behind were being transformed into an autobiographical book. Soon The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke was born. The book was published in 2001. Villard’s marketing strategy was simple and logical—sell the book for only $9.95 so that fellow broke people could afford it.
The Broke Diaries was reviewed and praised in publication including USA Today, Mademoiselle, and Publisher’s Weekly. A USA Today reviewer wrote: “The Broke Diaries is the New Economy’s version of Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell’s 1933 book about the urban poor.”
After the breakthrough success of The Broke Diaries, Nissel was featured on television shows including Mon-tel, The Today Show, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she was a guest on an episode titled “How I Managed With Hardly Any Money.” Nissel’s current ventures include writing for NBC’s Emmy award-winning comedy, Scrubs, a job she got after selling items on Ebay to a television executive who visited Nissel’s website and suggested that she write for television. In addition to her position with Scrubs, Nissel has given comedic lectures at colleges and plans to create a television adaptation of the book. She is also working on a sequel to The Broke Diaries.
No longer “teetering on the edge of this temporarily broke/permanently poor divide line,” which she describes in one of her entries, Nissel remains levelheaded about her transition to the stable, middle class. According to the Triscene website, she still bargain shops, clips coupons, and searches for part-time jobs.
Nissel offered this advice to broke people everywhere: “You’re broke? Learn to laugh about it…. When you’re broke all you have is your sanity and that expired can of tuna. Don’t give away your sanity (but return that can of expired tuna for a new one.) Express outrage at the store for selling outdated product even if you bought it a year ago. If you’re truly hungry, I believe you will be forgiven for this sin,” she wrote in The Broke Diaries.
Though Nissel’s comedic outlet was fueled by her desire to get through her own struggles, she hopes that her efforts may help others to find an alternative way to deal with financial adversity. Her words in an interview on the Metro Connection website encapsulated her hopes. “I hope people get to see the real side of struggling through college. I hope people escape into the book. I hope people laugh, laugh, then laugh some more. I love making people laugh. When you’re laughing … at that second the laughter is coming out of your mouth, you’re not worried about anything. You’re lost in laughter. I like doing that for people.”
The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke, Villard Books, New York, 2001.
Nissel, Angela, The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke, Villard Books, New York, 2001.
“Angela Nissel is No Longer Broke,” Metro Connection, www.metroconnection.net (September 5, 2003).
“The Broke Column,” The Independent Weekly, www.indyweek.com/durham/2001-04-11/jen-nings.html (September 5, 2003).
The Broke Diaries, www.thebrokediaries.com (September 5, 2003).
“Dear Diary: Ramen Noodles Rule!,” USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/books/2001-04-12-the-broke-diaries-review.htm (October 7, 2003).
“From broke to ballin’,” SMU Daily Campus, www.smudailycampus.eom/vnews/display.v/art/2003/08/21/3f44466013230 (October 7, 2003).
“Going for Broke,” Triscene, www.triscene.com (September 5, 2003).
Okay Player, www.Okayplayer.com (September 5, 2003).
—Shellie M. Saunders
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