HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Jeff Dingler has always been fascinated with the power of words, and his writing career has continued to flourish since graduating from Wallace State Community College in 2015.
Dingler, 34, was published by HuffPost earlier this year for a personal essay he penned, chronicling his time spent at a migrant refugee camp on the United States border, south of Brownsville, Texas.
The essay begins with Dingler stating: “One of the last things I did before the world went into COVID-19 lockdown last year was witness a refugee camp with my own eyes. At this time, this camp held some 3,000 people, most of them families, women and young children, all cramped together on what used to be a small public park, cooking from stoves made of dried mud, sleeping on the ground in camping tents or yurt-like structures of tarpaulin and other scrap materials…”
Dingler’s visit to Texas is an anecdote to a debut novel he is seeking to get published, titled, “The Witnesses,” about migrant children on U.S. soil. The novel revolves around Blake Kohler, a precocious, albeit late-bloomer 22 year old and how he falls in with a group of dedicated activists known as “Witnesses,” trying to shut down a prison camp for migrant minors just an hour south of Miami. As Blake becomes more involved in protesting, he’s torn between his growing dedication to the movement and his feelings for a fellow activist, the charming but elusive Luna. A coming-of-age story caught up in the detention/deportation machinery of modern-day America, “The Witnesses” examines not only what it means to bear witness, but how far some are willing to go to shine a light on tragedy.
“Writing consists of a lot of small victories and being published by The HuffPost is one of those,” Dingler said. “Even though my novel is a work of fiction, I’ve interviewed dozens of people to examine what it means to ‘witness.’ All fiction is a blend of reality. There are lessons to be learned.”
Dingler’s foundation as a writer
Dingler’s writing roots formed well before he attended Wallace State. His family owns a performance hall and community theater called The Wherehouse in Gardendale, and that helped spark his interest in storytelling.
“My mother is a great storyteller and entertainer and was a theater major in college. I’m captivated by the power of language and words. If it wasn’t for language, our world would not be here and we wouldn’t be able to communicate and share knowledge,” said Dingler, who grew up with an interest in R.L. Stine and Stephen King books and novels.
Dingler took eight years away from studies after graduating from Mortimer Jordan High School and ultimately enrolled at Wallace State, mainly because he was aware of the new creative writing classes offered at the time and the college’s successful theater department.
While at Wallace State, Dingler was a member of the Lion’s Den Creative Writing Club, an organization of students, alumni and members of the community interested in promoting writing and literature. He also served as the editor of Wallace State’s Journal of Arts and Letters (YAWP), and participated in Wallace State theater classes.
A couple of months before graduating from Wallace State in 2015, Dingler earned a prestigious scholarship to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute in Saratoga Springs, New York He was the lone community college student represented that summer, joining students from the likes of Stanford and Columbia.
Dingler returned to Saratoga Springs after the Institute was complete, transferring to Skidmore College – also the alma mater of Wallace State English instructor Michael Salerno. Dingler earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Skidmore, continuing his writing while enrolled. He wrote for the Saratoga Living magazine and interviewed a wide range of celebrities, including Tim Meadows, Jewel and Melissa Etheridge and other public and political figures.
While working with the magazine, he became intrigued by the Witnesses and the movement across the country at detention centers. His initial work about the Witnesses was published in an article by The Washington Post.
“My experiences observing and researching the Witness movement have defined my writing. The people I’ve met through the movement and the things I witnessed in Texas are life-changing experiences. I believe my novel is a vessel for those stories,” said Dingler, who’s pursuing a master of fine arts degree through Hollins University (Roanoke, Virginia).
As Dingler pitches his novel to publishing agencies, he positively reflects on his time spent at Wallace State and how it ignited his writing career.
“Wallace State is a special college with great people. It’s a beautiful campus and where I was encouraged by Mr. Salerno to pursue the opportunity at Saratoga Springs and eventually Skidmore College,” Dingler said. “If it wasn’t for the creative writing classes at Wallace State, I wouldn’t have had the chance to attend one of the most prestigious colleges for writers. I’m very thankful for that.”
Read Dingler’s published essay here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/biden-trump-migrant-asylum-seekers_n_60219e61c5b6c56a89a39a32