Josefina Niggli, Mexican-American writer, was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, on July 13, 1910. "Little Niggli," as the family called her, was sent out of Mexico in 1913 to escape the disruption of the Mexican Revolution. Her formative years were divided between Monterrey and San Antonio, Texas. She started her writing career in 1928, when her father financed the printing of her first book, a collection of poems, Mexican Silhouettes. Josefina Niggli went on to become a popular playwright and novelist. She began publishing poems and short stories in magazines such as Mexican Life and Ladies Home Journal. She relates that one of the nuns at Incarnate Word College, Sister Mary Clement, locked her in a room and would not let her come out until she had written a piece for the Ladies Home Journal short-story contest. She won second prize in that contest. Later, she also won the National Catholic College Poetry Award.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s Josefina Niggli became very popular in San Antonio writing and producing for KTSA Radio. After receiving her B.A. from Incarnate Word College in 1931, she began to study play writing at the San Antonio Little Theatre. In 1935 she joined a graduate program called the Carolina Playmakers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed her M.A. degree with Singing Valley, a play produced by the Carolina Playmakers in 1938. During this time she wrote a few historical plays about Mexico: The Fair God, The Cry of Dolores, and Azteca. She also wrote some plays that deal with the Mexican Revolution as a central theme. The most fascinating play of this stage in her play writing is Soldadera, which depicts the daring participation of women soldiers. After graduation Niggli joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina. During the late 1930s she returned to Mexico to work as stage manager for Rodolfo Usigli, a well-known Mexican dramatist who was directing the theater at the Universidad Autónoma de Mexico. Usigli admired Niggli's work and wrote a preface to her Mexican Folk Plays, published by the University of North Carolina in 1945.
Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), describes Niggli's writing as that of a consciousness caught between borders, a judgment borne out by Niggli's works and their reception. Confusion over her identity was apparently common at the time of her writing, which was designed to convey to her English-speaking audience an understanding of Mexican experience in the United States. During the late 1940s and early 1950s critics described her as "an American writer born in Mexico," or as a "native of Hidalgo." Her work is the product of "Americanization" rooted in such institutions as the family, the Catholic Church, and the American educational system. In the novel Mexican Village (1945) she characterizes life in a Mexican rural community. In 1953 Hollywood produced this novel into a film, Sombrero. In 1947 Niggli produced her second novel, Step Down Elder Brother. In 1950 she was awarded a fellowship that enabled her to spend time at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1956 she was hired to teach English and drama at Western Carolina University. In 1964 she wrote her third and last novel, A Miracle for Mexico. She was a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Photographic Society of America. She also served as president of the Business and Professional Women's Club in Sylva, North Carolina. She died in 1983.
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The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Julio A. Martinez, Chicano Scholars and Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Directory (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1979).
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Dramatists and Novelists
Authors and Writers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Niggli, Josefina Maria,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: