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A Closer Look: NSangou Njikam

Playwrights’ Corner
NSangou Njikam

Take "A Closer Look" at the writers of The New Black Fest at The Lark!  In this series, the writers involved in this year's festival interview each other about their influences, impulses, inspirations and identities.  Read on to hear what NSangou Njikam tells Jocelyn Bioh about his work!

Jocelyn Bioh: You had a very personal journey with discovering your ancestry which you chronicled so amazingly in your brilliant play RE: DEFINITION. Can you talk about how your personal journey has influenced your work and voice as a playwright?

NSangou Njikam: Upon discovering my ancestral roots, I recognized that my people had a specific and strong artistic tradition that I could pull from as a playwright.  And it occurred to me that most of the time I am using someone else's aesthetics to tell my stories.  So I began to explore how my people, the Tikar, create art.  The more I connect with my lineage, the more it comes out...naturally.  So that organic process, the one that our storytellers have, the one we see manifesting today in emcees and spoken word poets and musicians and dancers, that comes out in my writing.  The work is alive.  It moves and feels and bonds with the world. It speaks to the now while acknowledging and honoring the past.  That's the Tikar in me.

JB: I too, am an actor and a playwright and I get so thrown (read: annoyed, ha) when people ask me 'what do I like better?' and 'if you had to choose, which one would it be?' Now that you are making your mark as a playwright as well, what are your responses to those questions - do you think a writer/performer HAS to choose?

NN: First of all, being African means we don't have to choose just one.  Studying both our rituals on the continent as well as the history of Black theater in America has shown me we have always done more than one thing and been successful at that.  I came up with artists who wrote, performed, directed, and produced their work.  Kamilah Forbes, Will Power, Chadwick Boseman, UNIVERSES.  My fellow Tikar brother Nate Parker has done that with his film "The Birth of a Nation."  So it's in our DNA.  Ain't no shame in being multi-talented.  Only shame is in not releasing your gifts to a world that needs them.

JB: In recent years, you have adopted the name NSangou Njikam, but your birth name is Glenn Gordon. I can only imagine what your family and friends who grew up with you in Baltimore have to say about it!  Can you share some of the funny, great and/or annoying things about going through a name change? 

NN: Hahaha.  Oh yes, I have heard "well your Mama named you Glenn so..." or "do I have to call you that now?"  Yes you do!  While NSangou is currently only my performance and artist name, I was given that name by the king of the Bamoun people when I went to Cameroon.  Now, my family gets a break because they are walking this journey with me and everyone is at a different place with it.  But in public, I am always NSangou Njikam.  In fact, during a talkback of another show I was working on in Houston, a woman moderating it addressed me as Glenn and I stopped her immediately and said, "My name is NSangou Njikam."  She replied, "I just didn't want to mess it up."  Then learn how to say it.  African names are beautiful.  If I gotta pronounce Schwarzenegger then you have to learn to pronounce NSangou Njikam.  That's an act of self definition.  That's who I am.