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Anna Deavere Smith
Playwright 
 Actor 
 Professor
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Anna Deavere Smith
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Playwright, actor, and educator Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to explore issues of community, character, and diversity in America. The MacArthur Foundation honored Smith with the “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”

Best known for crafting more than 15 one-woman shows, based on hundreds of conversations, Smith turns her interviews into scripts, transforming herself into an astonishing number of characters. In 2012, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal, presented by Presid­­ent Obama. In 2015, Smith was named the Jefferson Lecturer, the nation’s highest honor in the humanities. She also is the recipient of the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and most recently, the 2017 Ridenhour Courage Prize and the George Polk Career Award for authentic journalism.

Smith’s Notes from the Field, winner of an Obie Award and the 2017 Nortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, looks at the School-to-Prison Pipeline and injustice in low-income communities. Time magazine named it one of the Top 10 Plays of the year. In his New York Times review of Notes from the Field, Ben Brantley called Smith “the American theater’s most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian.”

Smith’s breakthrough plays, Fires in the Mirror, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, and the Tony-nominated Twilight: Los Angeles, tackle issues of race and social inequality that have become touchstones of her work. Her portrayals of patients and medical professionals in Let Me Down Easy delivered a vivid look at healthcare in the United States. The show aired on PBS’ Great Performances.

Currently, she appears as Rainbow’s mother Alicia on ABC’s hit series Black-ish. She is probably most recognizable in popular culture as the hospital administrator on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and the National Security Advisor on NBC’s The West Wing. Her films include The American President, Rachel Getting Married, and Philadelphia.  During the 2017-2018 television season, she will be starring in the new ABC legal drama For the People.

Smith is the founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, which was launched at Harvard University and is now housed at New York University, where she is a Professor at Tisch School of the Arts. Her books include Letters to a Young Artist and Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines.

She has been an Artist-in-Residence at MTV Networks, the Ford Foundation, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Smith holds honorary degrees from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Julliard, among others.

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Videos
  • Smith talks with Judy Woodruff on Bloomberg TV
  • Anna Deavere Smith Interviewed on Bill Moyers Journal
  • Anna Deavere Smith at the TED Conference (2007)
  • HBO Film: Anna Deavere Smith: A YoungArts Masterclass
  • Twilight: Los Angeles (2015)
  • Smith: Healthcare Innovation Summit Keynote (2012)
  • Anna Deavere Smith Gets Laughs on 'Nurse Jackie' (2011)
  • Anna Deavere Smith in Let Me Down Easy (2011)
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Speaking Topics
A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT PROGRAMS WITH ANNA DEAVERE SMITH

All presentations by Anna Deavere Smith include theatrical performance elements, as she steps away from the podium, transforming herself into characters she has created and selected for each event. These living portraits of both legendary and everyday people illustrate and illuminate the themes of her topics.

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Snapshots: Portraits of a World in Transition

Ms. Smith, who is said to have created a new form of theater, has been listening to people across the country from all walks of life for decades, using Walt Whitman’s idea “to absorb America” as an inspiration. To illustrate her goal of bringing “people across the chasms” of what she calls the “complex identities of America,” Ms. Smith performs portrayals of people she has interviewed during the course of her presentation, recreating a diversity of emotions and points of view on controversial issues.

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Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity

We live in a winner-take-all society. And yet, part of our potential as humans is our potential for compassion and our resilience in the face of adversity.  While doing research for her play “Let Me Down Easy,” Anna Deavere Smith interviewed people in the US and abroad who demonstrated grace in the face of dramatic challenges.  The speech celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, the power of kindness, the strength of imagination, and hope. 

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Doing Time in Education: The School-to-Prison Pipeline

As research for her new work, Anna Deavere Smith created the Pipeline Project as a way to apply her signature form of documentary theater to investigate the school-to-prison pipeline — the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth. Now more than ever, we need a moral imagination to put a face on the challenges faced by minority youth and to animate policy conversations around this and other issues of social inequality. In the preliminary stages of developing the piece, she conducted interviews with hundreds of people who are involved in the Pipeline at all levels: students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, and many more.

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From Rodney King to Michael Brown: Anna Deavere Smith on the Narrative of Ferguson
Health Care: The Human Story

For her one-woman show, Let Me Down Easy, Anna-Deavere Smith conducted thousands of hours of interviews with patients, doctors, and administrators to expose the complexities of the American Health Care system. People all over the country shared their own stories with Smith, giving her a unique perspective on what is happening in the health care today. In her speech “Health Care: The Human Story,” her subjects’ hearts and humanity get the spotlight. Turning her interviews into the script, Smith relives their experiences on stage in a powerful and surprising presentation.

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Race in America: Accepting Difference, Standing Shoulder to Shoulder
The Art of Communication: Storytelling, Listening, and Authenticity
On Resilience: Standing up for Women and Girls
Engaging the World: The Role of the Artist in Society
Books & Other Works
  • Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines
  • Fires in the Mirror
  • Creating a Life You'll Love: Notable Achievers Offer Their Secrets for Happiness
  • Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
  • Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts for Actors, Performers,...
  • House Arrest and Piano: Two Plays
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Testimonials
“Anna Deavere Smith is top flight and beautiful professional. She met our expectations and gave the symposium the proper launch thematically, tying everything together from the get-go.”
Vanderbilt University
“The responses have been overwhelming. Students have commented that it was the highlight of their college experience.”
Rollins College
“Anna Deavere Smith is a remarkable chronicler of the human character and condition. In her examination of such thorny subjects as race relations or our feelings about death, she has applied her virtuosic talent to questions that most of us would prefer to avoid.”
National Endowment for the Humanities
“Anna Deavere Smith was the hit of the conference. She received a standing ovation.”
Ascension Health
“Anna Deavere Smith was EXTRAORDINARY. It was a powerful and exciting night, and a milestone for the School.
UCLA
“I was fortunate to hear her performance and was captivated. Typically I see students in the audience on their cell phones or fidgeting during some of our lectures, but they were enthralled during Anna's presentation and hung on her every word. Anna was so engaging - it was truly an honor and delight to meet her (she has been a personal favorite of mine for a long time) and we were thrilled to have her on our campus. If she ever wanted to visit us again, or perhaps even come to our campus in Lake Geneva, WI, for another presentation, we would love to have her back.
Aurora University
“Anna's presentation at this year's Irving S. Cooper Visiting Professorship event will remain a distinct highlight in our program for years to come. Her unique style and singular insight provide an ideal platform for conversations about medical excellence and humanitarian care. Truly an engaging evening!
Humanities in Medicine, Mayo Clinic's Campus in Arizona
“Ms. Smith rocked the place. Two nights - two standing ovations.”
University of Washington
““There are moments in a theater when one knows-this is different, this is special, this is singular. Such was the feeling Monday night at the Guthrie. Your unique and splendid performance as well as the skill and artistry of your words made this Global Voice night more than successful...was thrilled and privileged to hear you.”
Guthrie Theater
“She touched us all with fire and light and we are oh so grateful.
Emerson College
“...over 400 people in attendance. The audience was enthralled by Ms. Smith's presentation. This was the best program we ever hosted.”
Boise State University
“Anna Deavere Smith was phenomenal!!...Your performance at the Kravits Center was electrifying and generated conversations here among and between all sorts of unlikely people. Well done!!!
Community Foundation for Palm Beach & Martin Counties
“Anna was wonderful! Everybody loved her presentation. The format was so unusual; she was dramatic, engaging, moving, to the point and inspirational. She got a standing ovation.
Adventist Healthcare
“Our event with Anna Deavere Smith was fabulous. She was absolutely wonderful in her presentation and she was a pleasure to work with as well! The audience loved her, and gave her a standing ovation.
University of Southern California
“Anna Deavere Smith provided a powerful narrative for the Duke community, weaving aspects of performance, social justice, and oral history into a challenging and insightful conversation on past and contemporary race relations. I was struck by her ability to integrate her activism into her professional work, and her ability to provide a vital call to action for her audience. Smith would impart an important experience for any college campus.”
Duke University
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