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Dwight Conquergood Dies at Age 55

November 23, 2004

Dwight Conquergood, 55, of Chicago, associate professor of performance studies at Northwestern University, died Nov. 13 in Northshore Hospice in Skokie after a long illness.

Mr. Conquergood, known for his groundbreaking research in performance studies, critical ethnography and cultural studies, conducted much of his research living with the people he was studying. He lived in refugee camps in Thailand and the Gaza Strip and in immigrant and impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago. His work in all these settings extended far beyond scholarship into advocacy  and activism.

His innovative work was honored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education which named him Illinois Professor of the Year in 1993.

He won several awards for his documentaries and published research, including the Silver Plaque from the Chicago International Film Festival and the Lilla Heston Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Performance Studies from the Speech Communication Association.

Mr. Conquergood published “I Am a Shaman: A Hmong Life Story with Ethnographic Commentary” and coauthored “Dispersed Ethnicity and Community Integration: New Immigrants and Established Residents in Chicago’s Albany Park Neighborhood.” He co-produced two award-winning documentaries based on his research: “Between Two Worlds: The Hmong Shaman in America” and “The Heart Broken in Half.” His research on new immigrants in Chicago was featured in the PBS documentary “America Becoming.”

His essays "Health Theatre in a Hmong Refugee Camp" and "Life in Big Red: Struggles and Accommodations in a Chicago Polyethnic Tenement" have been reprinted and widely used. Mr. Conquergood won the Outstanding Critical Essay Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education for “Lethal Theatre: Performance, Punishment, and the Death Penalty,” published in the October 2002 issue of Theatre Journal.

Mr. Conquergood’s activism included running a public health program in a Thai refugee camp, teaching imprisoned adolescents in Chicago, working with the Albany Park Theater Project, and working against the U.S. death penalty and regularly teaching in a summer school for anti-death penalty attorneys.

A former vice president of Performance Studies International and former president of the Performance Studies Division of National Communication Association, Mr. Conquergood lectured at more than 50 universities in the United States and abroad and gave the Carrol C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association.

Mr. Conquergood was the recipient of several Northwestern teaching awards and served as the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence. He was a faculty associate at the University’s Joint Center for Poverty Research. He also headed the department of performance studies for six years and served another six years as director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts. He advised and mentored more than 40 PhD students at Northwestern.

He received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana State University, a master’s from the University of Utah and a PhD from Northwestern University and taught one year at SUNY-Binghamton before joining Northwestern in 1978.

A native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Mr. Conquergood is survived by his mother, Dorothea; two sisters, Carey Konazeski of Terre Haute and Cheryl Wall of New Mexico; two brothers, Kevin of Terre Haute and Larey of Indianapolis; and his godson, Christopher Panyathip of Laurel, Md.

Topics: People