Michelle Cowin Gibbs

Michelle Cowin Gibbs

Personal profile


Dr. Michelle Cowin Gibbs teaches a wide variety of courses in the School of Theatre Arts including theatre history, theatre studies, contemporary issues in performance, and performance courses at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. 

Her scholarly research interests include a spectrum of interdisciplinary studies situated in Black performativity and critical identity studies including solo autoethnographic performance and early twentieth-century Black theatre. Michelle has publications in the Black Theatre Review; the Journal of American Drama and Theatre; Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies; and book chapters in Impacting Theatre Audiences: Methods for Studying Change (Routledge 2022). 

Most notably, Michelle is a Zora Neale Hurston studies scholar of her theatrical work. Outside of recognizing Hurston's brilliance in crafting plays that highlight the resiliency of Southern Black folks of the early twentieth century, Michelle examines Black womanhood across her body of theatrical work and makes connections among her anthropological and ethnographic research with play analysis. Michelle is developing a website devoted to Hurston's theatre forthcoming in 2023. She has presented papers, and performances and served on panels at conferences including Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), Mid-America Theatre Conference (MATC), and the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR). 

As a solo performance artist, Michelle uses her body as a site for inquiry into how Black female racialization manifests into performances of affect - teetering between the spaces of tragic/comical and repulsive/alluring. Recent solo performance works include: They Don’t Really Care About Us: PO-lice, PoPos, Sandra, and Me, a performance movement rumination about fear and terror, and toxic white masculine policing, as told through a reimagining of the last day of Sandra Bland’s life. A Thing Held in Full View is a commentary on race, gender, and women's reproductive rights in Texas. Blunt Force Trauma: A Mother's Performance in Empathy, a solo autoethnographic performance that explores the relationship between motherhood, cruelty, and forgiveness. Dancing with my/Self: The Selfie Monologues, is an exploration of Selfie culture that self-reflexively challenges how we attempt to hone-fetishize-dominate perceptions of self. 

Michelle serves as board chair of Brownbody, a performing arts company located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Using a blend of African diasporic perspectives in modern dance, theatre, and figure skating, Brownbody seeks to build artistic experiences that disrupt biased narratives. 

Michelle received a Ph.D. in Theatre from Bowling Green State University. She holds an M.F.A. in Drama from the University of California, Irvine, and a B.A. in Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University. She is a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Incorporated and The Honors Society of Phi Kappa Phi.


  • Arts and Humanities
  • Theater and Performance Studies
  • Acting
  • Performance Studies
  • Theater History