The Power of Writing
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Paul Carmen
From the moment she envisioned herself in an occupation, writer and English educator Nancy Avery Dafoe knew she would be a writer.
“I wanted to do everything,” she explained, “and writing is a way to jump into whatever interests you at the moment.”
After starting her career in traditional journalism, Nancy channeled her passion for writing into entrepreneurship. She founded DaFoe Newsletters, a public relations firm specializing in advocacy journalism. Each project had a cause behind it. Nancy used her writing, editing and self-taught photography skills to create content for employers around the state, including school districts and hospitals.
Though she was faced with the typical struggles of an entrepreneur — some months were easier than others — owning her own business gave Nancy more time with her young children.
Having flexibility also gave her the opportunity to coach her daughters’ softball teams. The experience helped her realize she was skilled at and enjoyed working with children.
Though she loved DaFoe Newsletters, Nancy decided to take the next step down her career path. She earned a master’s degree in teaching and English and began teaching high school English at East Syracuse Minoa Central High School.
During her 16 years at the school, Nancy taught primarily seniorlevel classes, including her favorites — Advanced Placement English, creative writing and journalism.
She also began her writing career while still teaching. Nancy’s students suggested she write a book about her writing processes and techniques. So, she penned “Breaking Open the Box: A Guide for Creative Techniques to Improve Academic Writing and Generate Critical Thinking” and “Writing Creatively: A Guided Journal to Using Literary Devices.”
Eventually, Nancy transitioned to writing full time. If the atmosphere around teaching was different in the state and across the country, she might still be in the classroom, she said.
“I was ready to write about the experience and write about other things,” she said. “And, my whole life, I’d wanted to write.”
As she left teaching, she was in the process of writing “The Misdirection of Education Policy: Raising Questions about School Reform.”
“I think educators should definitely read this book, but I also think parents should read it to better understand what’s happening in education and why it’s happening,” Nancy said.
The next book she published was even closer to her heart. While Nancy was teaching and developing her career as an author, her mother developed Alzheimer’s disease. She wasn’t diagnosed until the disease had greatly progressed, Nancy remembered, adding that her father hadn’t wanted to admit his wife was ill.
Nancy began writing poetry as a way to deal with what was happening. Before she knew it, she practically had a book of material. Adding to what she’d written, Nancy wrote “An Iceberg in Paradise: A Passage Through Alzheimer’s,” a memoir about her experiences. She learned a lot about the disease and herself through the process.
“It exposes the disease for what it is: a disease and not something that people should shy away from,” Nancy said. “What I hope it does is it helps people help other people with it.”
Throughout her life, Nancy has written a number of novels, most of them in the genre of literary fiction. A mystery she discovered about two works of literature she’d read inspired her to write “You Enter a Room,” the first in a series centered around both a murder mystery and the literary mystery Nancy discovered. The story can be interpreted on a couple different levels.
“I think it’s fun because it’s a smart novel,” Nancy said.
The sequel, “Both End in Speculation,” is due out in November and Nancy is currently writing the third installment.
Not one to take on only one project at a time, Nancy is working on several, including ones through her consulting business, Dafoe Writing & Consulting. A few months after retiring from teaching, Nancy founded the business. She aims to help other people of all skill levels with their writing.
“I just like to do different things. It’s probably why I like all these different genres,” Nancy said. “I like being in different places and different adventures.” SWM
For more information about Nancy and her work, visit nancydafoebooks.com.
For Aspiring Writers Though Nancy is retired from full-time teaching, she occasionally teaches through the YMCA’s Downtown Writers Center. For more information on the center, including workshops and events, visit syracuse.ymca.org/dwc.html.