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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

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.

One of my most cherished memories of Bill was his Indiana fieldwork in the late 1970s on Black sacred drama. 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 and with humanity, he kept the performance from becoming exotic and the audience, mixed by race and class, 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 the In the Rapture film in my African American theatre class to this day. 

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

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