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AFS Review: In Memoriam

William H. Wiggins Jr. (1934-2016)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson
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William H. Wiggins, Jr.By Phyllis May-Machunda (Minnesota State University Moorhead) — 

Bill Wiggins was an academic and public folklorist, a teacher, advisor, mentor, sports enthusiast/scholar, an ordained minister, and a dedicated Hoosier. He taught at Indiana University for more than 34 years. He died after an extended illness on December 24, 2016, at the age of 82, leaving his wife of 51 years, Janice and two children, Wesley and Mary Ellyn.  

I had the good fortune to meet Bill in 1975 when I was a master’s student in his Afro-American Folklore class at IU. In this class, he introduced to me aspects of African American culture with which I was both familiar and unfamiliar and, in doing so, engaged me in the discipline. The subject matter was so engrossing that I was left wanting more. From that time forward, he became one of my mentors and friends, advising and guiding me with his wisdom at crucial points during my academic career. I will always be grateful because he generously came out of retirement to sit on my dissertation committee and meticulously read my chapters.

Bill told and appreciated great stories and one of the most fabulous was one that he researched and presented in Bloomington, Indiana, and around the state, and then later made into a film. This story he brought to light through his fieldwork on Black sacred drama in the late 1970s. I was lucky enough to get a seat to see a live performance of In the Rapture in a Black Baptist church in Bloomington. The expertise, care, and support he provided for this mostly family-based church group who performed this drama around the state was impressive. By framing this sacred pageant as participatory, he kept the performance from becoming exotic and the mixed audience of participants experienced a Black Church Sunday evening service instead. He was able to capture and frame a similar performance on film. The immediacy of the performance was so wonderful that I use In the Rapture in my African American drama class to this day. 

Throughout his career Bill Wiggins taught and interacted with integrity, kindness, and generosity. Bill will be truly missed and once again, he has left us wanting more.  

May he rest in peace.

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