Texas Originals

Josefina Niggli

July 13, 1910–December 17, 1983

Twentieth-century playwright and novelist Josefina Niggli once wrote, "When I was . . . starting out as a writer, I had a shining goal. I was going to present Mexico and the Mexicans as they had never before been presented."

Born in 1910 to Anglo parents in Monterrey, Mexico, Niggli grew up both in Monterrey and San Antonio, Texas. After graduating from Incarnate Word College, she studied playwriting at the San Antonio Little Theater. National magazines began publishing her short stories and poems. She later moved to North Carolina and earned an MA in drama from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Niggli’s works, written in English for American audiences, often highlighted tensions within Mexican society and between the cultures of Mexico and the United States.

Her most influential work was Mexican Village—a 1945 collection of related stories that form a composite portrait of Hidalgo, Mexico. Her play Soldadera depicts women soldiers of the Mexican Revolution. At a time when American media often stereotyped Mexicans as villains and louts, Niggli provided an authentic and nuanced view of life across the border.

One New York Times critic wrote, "Niggli sweeps into the discard a whole library of books by Americans purporting to tell us of Mexican life."

Niggli died in 1983. Her bicultural perspective is now recognized as a critical precursor to the Mexican American writers who followed her.

For More about Josefina Niggli

The Josefina Niggli Collection at the Hunter Library Special Collections of Western Carolina University contains manuscripts, publications, photographs, correspondence, and oral history interviews of students and colleagues of Josefina Niggli.

Josefina Niggli joined the faculty of Western Carolina University in 1955 and taught English, journalism, drama, and poetry from 1956 to 1975. Following Niggli’s death, WCU named the Niggli Theater in honor of the celebrated writer.

Niggli’s portrait and biography are featured in the University of North Carolina’s virtual museum, The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History, and a full list of her works can be viewed online in the University of Minnesota’s Voices from the Gaps.

Selected Bibliography

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (4th ed.). San Francisco: Ante Lute Books, 2012.

Martínez, Elizabeth C. Josefina Niggli, Mexican American Writer: A Critical Biography. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

Martinez, Julio A. Chicano Scholars and Writers: A Bio-Bibliography Directory. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1979.

Orchard, William, and Padilla, Yolanda, eds. The Plays of Josefina Niggli: Recovered Landmarks of Latino Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007.

Paredes, Américo, and Raymund A. Paredes. Mexican-American Authors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972.

Paredes, Raymund A. "The Evolution of Chicano Literature." MELUS (Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) 5, (1978) no. 2: 71–110.

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Spanish Translation

Download the Spanish translation of this Texas Originals script.

Portrait of Josefina Niggli. Courtesy North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.
Cover of Mexican Village by Josefina Niggli, originally published in 1945