Author Looks In Backyard, And Far Beyond

Posted: Dayton Daily News, 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015 — By Sharon Short, Contributing Writer

“It seems to me that so many books focus on how one’s fate is sealed by the socio-economic role one is born into,” says author and Kettering resident Nancy Diggs. “But what I’ve learned from research, from interviewing subjects and writing about their stories is that our paths are not sealed by the circumstances we’re born into.”

Nancy’s books explore the impact of one’s culture on individual development and choices.

Most recently, Breaking the Cycle: How Schools Can Overcome Urban Challenges, focused on Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) and the stories of the students, teachers and administrators; the book was published in 2013 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

“The underlying message of that book was ‘don’t write off inner city kids.’ With the right schools and grit, these kids can accomplish a lot, and that’s what we’re seeing already with DECA graduates,” Nancy says, “many of whom are now returning to the community to help make it even better.”

Two years before her book on DECA, Nancy’s book Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America was published by Michigan State University Press.

Nancy is passionate about all of her projects, but perhaps most so about “Heartland.”

“Immigration is so very much in the news,” Nancy says, “So of all my books, this one seems to get the most attention. The book focuses on the lives of undocumented immigrants in our region — the human stories that the numbers don’t show. My goal is to be objective and neutral in my reporting on the issues, but I’m fascinated by the bravery that many of these immigrants show in navigating through life.”

Renowned sociologist and author Richard Alba provided a quote for the book cover: “This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand both sides of a vital national debate.”

Nancy grew up in Louisville and says she had a fascination with foreign languages “even as a young kid.” She majored in French, completing her bachelor’s at Case Western Reserve University. After her husband’s job brought both him and her to Dayton, she earned a Master of Humanities in Eastern Studies from Wright State University, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in the same subject from Union University.

Nancy loves to travel; in fact, she’s visited every continent, and spent several years living in France. Her theses for her Masters and Ph.D. programs focused on Japanese culture, in particular women and how they communicate with their husbands; both these became the basis for two books.

Nancy also interviewed her 100-year-old neighbor and co-authored her biography.

“I love talking with people and listening to their stories,” Nancy says, “which is ironic because the hardest part for me of any project is to overcome my natural shyness and make that first contact. But once I do, I find that everyone is kind and helpful. While it’s important to respect the privacy of the people one is interviewing, I find everyone has a story, and most are eager to share it once you get to know them.”

For her next project, Nancy says, “I’m originally from central Kentucky, which is not part of Appalachia, but I’ve always been interested in Appalachian culture and the emphasis put on the family unit. Yet, over the years so many individuals have had to move away from their Appalachian roots for work. I’m interested in exploring how that affects both the individual and the family unit.”

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