Ken Stiggers—a television producer, video artist, satirist and columnist for the JFP—was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. Stiggers, 43, came to Jackson by way of Atlanta's public access studios and public schools, where he was a teacher. Now as the media services coordinator of the PEG Network (public access) in Jackson, he is an up-and-coming player in the media services and entertainment industry here. He is also an eclectically creative artist—a biting satirist, poet and video artist.
Two of his short animated films— smart satires of black culture and history—were featured in the Crossroads Film Festival the last two years, and he is co-host of the Lyric Lounge on Thursday nights. This Thursday, Dec. 23, is Ken Stiggers tribute night and the last night the Lounge will be held at Daiquiri World. It is moving to Santiago's on South Street on Dec. 30.
What kind of kid were you?
When I was in first grade, they put me back. I did not flunk first grade. I was just real quiet. My first grade teacher talked to my mother and said "Kenneth is not socially adept, so I am not going to advance him to the second grade." That was like the saddest part of my life. After 1968, I had the opportunity to have teachers like Mrs. Dick who was a Jewish lady, who called all us black kids dynamite. We had teachers who called us dummies. After 1968, when MLK got shot, these black folks were standing up for their rights.
Tell me about your education.
I have a two-year degree in electronics, and I thought that I was just going to be an electronic technician and fix VCRs. Then I got the interest to go into radio. I went an extra year at community college and transferred to Penn State. It was kind of a culture shock for me. I changed my major and eventually graduated in 1985 from Penn State University, with a degree in humanities and American studies, with a concentration in media and journalism.
What are your aspirations as a writer?
I never really had any aspirations as a writer. I thought I would just be hooking up wires or doing something. I wrote for the newspaper at Penn State. I needed help because, at the time, I was an engineer trying to be a liberal arts type of guy. I had to go to a writing coach. Later when I came to Mississippi, a few of the people who were a part of the Mississippi Vibes Poetry Group said maybe you need to put a book together, and I self-published my first book of poetry, prose and humor, "Notes of Never to be Seen, Silliness that Makes Sense." I had just developed as a satirist, because, back to the Penn State experience, I had to laugh because it was so crazy there, in terms of my being the only black. Sometimes folks would poke fun at me, so I had to come back with something to kind of equalize the situation. That was my way of coping. It evolved into the satire that I am doing now.
How would you describe spoken word to a "virgin" to the art, if it were their first time out to an open-mic event?
My philosophy on it is that I would describe it as an information session, and the people who come up to microphone are like the newscasters, like Oprah. The spoken-word thing, it is where some people can be very informative because they got all this knowledge packed in their head, and then they're finding a way to express it in an entertaining way.
What is the most important asset spoken word is contributing to the rebuilding of Jackson's heart and soul?
It is like the town square. You come and hear what people have to say. I think it's giving a lot of people an opportunity to just speak out. People agree to disagree sometimes. Whether I agree or not you have had that opportunity to share your viewpoint. It is not something that's forced, but people, through these little venues, are learning to co-exist, not tolerate, but co-exist.
What is one thing most people do not know about Ken Stiggers?
Ken likes children's shows. To a degree I am a child at heart. Ken is spiritual; he goes to church. He believes in the principles of Christianity and Jesus Christ. Ken loves his momma and his daddy.