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Josefina Niggli celebration premiere to feature exhibit, photos and dramatizations

Ami Pisano, a senior theater major from Asheville, never met the late Josefina Niggli, a novelist, poet, playwright, screenwriter and Western Carolina professor born 100 years ago in Mexico. But Pisano and her fellow Theatre in Education students have come to know her through their research, and, now they want to introduce her to others during the dramatic presentation they prepared for part of the Niggli celebration premiere Thursday, Jan. 28.

Josefina Niggli

Josefina Niggli

The Jan. 28 event will invite vistiors to read about Josefina Niggli.

The Jan. 28 event will invite vistiors to read about Josefina Niggli.

“She was an amazing person who pioneered a place for women in her field and who did so much for Western Carolina,” said Pisano. “We’re not spinning her story or ‘performing’ but simply presenting her, who Josefina was, and how much she affected students then and today. Three in our class have Niggli scholarships, so, for us, it really hits close to home.”

The Niggli celebration event, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Niggli Theatre, will begin with a segment from a radio panel discussion hosted by Don Connelly, associate professor and head of the department of communication, about Niggli, her life and legacy.

Then, in the first act, titled “Retrospective” and directed by Steve Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College and a former Niggli student, Honors College students will share a slideshow they prepared about Niggli, and Kathy Wright, retired professor emeritus of communication, will deliver a monologue. “We will attempt to create a show that Miss Niggli would be proud of and one fitting of the respect and love that all of her former students and admirers have for her,” said Carlisle.

The second act, “Legacy: A Multimedia Journey,” is presented by WCU’s Theatre in Education Company and is directed by Pisano. Students will perform a scene from Niggli’s 1943 play “The Ring of General Macias: A Drama of the Mexican Revolution,” in which two women interact – one stoic about her husband going off to war, the other emotional. In addition, sketches will include dramatizations of Niggli’s poems and monologues of memories of Niggli such as the “Oldest Boy.” “There is a part of the story where she refers to (a former student) as her oldest boy, and we started to refer to this memory as ‘the oldest boy’ in class,” said Pisano. “We understand the person who shared it with us may even be in the audience for the performance.”

In addition, an exhibit at the event will feature the full gown, hood, diploma, framed certificate, framed speech and photos from the honorary doctorate that was to be presented in honor of Niggli at the December commencement ceremony. After the event, the display will move to the Fine and Performing Arts Center for the rest of the semester.

“The goal of the premier is to help bring more awareness to the Niggli celebration that will kick into full swing in January,” said Glenda Hensley, coordinator of first-year experiences with the Office for Undergraduate Studies. “Although many projects and course engagements are already under way, spring will bring significant elements to fruition.”

Other upcoming events related to the Niggli celebration include:

-          Jan. 15-Dec. 11, exhibit by Hunter Library’s Special Collections.

-          March 10, a film screening of “Sombrero,” with screenplay by Niggli and based on a book of her short stories; and a gender conference at WCU, sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program and featuring author and Niggli scholar Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez as keynote speaker.

-          April 7-May 5, Niggli portrait exhibit, Fine Art Museum.

-          July 8-10, a reunion of former Niggli students and a performance event.

Josefina Niggli – A Celebration of Culture, Life and Art” is a Quality Enhancement Plan interdisciplinary initiative sponsored by the Office for Undergraduate Studies. For more information, contact Hensley at 828-227-2786 or ghensley@wcu.edu.

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