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By: Gail Obenreder
“I devoured and savored words – written, spoken, sung – since I could remember. Writing chose me, long before I knew a black girl could be a writer.”
Though she was always in love with words – “while other little girls played with dolls, I was informed by Reader’s Digest” – Njideka Wiggins never thought of herself as a potential writer or artist. She loved music and read all the “European classics,” but Wiggins “rarely encountered a creative in the literary world who looked like me.” It was at Pace University – where she took her first course in Black literature with Professor Ellease Southerland (now Ebele N. Oseye) – that “I imagined myself, shyly, as a writer. She was the door I walked through into the rich, lost land of my Black/African storytelling legacy. I’ve never looked back.”
Wiggins grew up in New York City and lived in every borough “except Staten Island, but I’m a Brooklyn girl, through and through.” She loved the diversity and “the cornucopia of international foods and musical accents. Brooklyn was a cultural wonderland.” She wanted to be an actor or a psychologist, but both careers were considered “foolish endeavors for a little black girl” by her large and complex family. So throughout her youth (and her adulthood), Wiggins “secretly” wrote, crafting two novels, a memoir, short stories, and a novella, but she wrote nothing to completion as she built a business career instead.
With her then-husband and 18-month-old daughter, Wiggins first moved to Delaware in 1984, beginning work at MBNA in 1987 and became the bank’s first African American First Vice President. She left banking in 2002 and returned to school to earn an MA in Counseling, working in Philadelphia and then Virginia for several years as a behavioral health clinician. In 2010, Wiggins moved back to the First State, where the Wilmington resident is currently a psychotherapist and consultant for DEI initiatives.
Lights come up on home of the Reynolds’, a lovely brownstone in Crown Heights Brooklyn—audience sees their parlor – which is Ezell’s sanctuary – filled with black memorabilia collected by him, his father and grandfather – war photos, sheet music, photos of now famous people (Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, James Reese) photo of him and Jackie Robinson, and a photo of him and Lt. Col. Paul Bates, other war momentos.
Ezell and Lorraine are heard offstage exchanging comments, as they are running late departing for a concert BB King is at Wingate Park, blocks from their home
Ezell speaks, coming down the stairs into parlor
Ezell: Lorraine!! Lo — girl, hurry up! You the one that wanted to see BB !! We gonna have a better view from here in a minute!!
Lorraine: Me!!? You the BB King, blues lover!! Laughs loudly– I’da been on time if you hadn’t wanted to get romantical—big daddy– she calls from upstairs—talk’n bout I can make Lucille envious.” She races down the staircase – giddy, joining him in the parlor
Throughout her life, she has been inspired by her voracious reading, but it is Zora Neale Hurston, “my imagined godmother and muse,” who has been her constant literary and intellectual companion. Wiggins has taken workshops centered around the influential Black writer, but as she turned toward drama, she found inspiration in the works of playwrights like the legendary August Wilson and Pulitzer winner Jackie Sibblies Drury. Wiggins is now rewriting that unfinished novella – Connections – as a play; it was her Fellowship submission.
A theater buff who loves discovering new music, books, and films, she’s also a food and wine afficionado. But writing is paramount, and her challenge is twofold – to shake off her youthful uncertainty and to acquire discipline, “showing up every day to the page without waiting on or expecting ‘inspiration’ to carry me forth.” For Wiggins, writing is all about tenacity and seizing time to direct her energy inward. It’s her best reward when characters speak to her and she can “mesh what seems like random thoughts into a story line.”
“Rescued by this prophetic pandemic,” Wiggins has found this year’s “enforced solitude and immobility to have been a blessing.” She plans to use her award to help herself “emerge and anchor me in the craft.” Given the abundant time to substitute research and writing for her usual whirl of cultural activities, she quotes her beloved muse Hurston: “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” For Wiggins, this has been a year that answers.Fellowship Home
Related Topics: 2021 Artist Fellows, art, artist fellowship, arts fellowship, arts grants, Delaware, Delaware Department of State, delaware division of the arts, emerging artist, grants, grants for artists, individual artist fellowship, literary arts, literature, Njideka Wiggins, playwright, playwriting, State of Delaware, writer