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.
Her most recent play, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, 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.
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.
- 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)
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.Read More >
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 the last several years, 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.Read More >
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.Read More >
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.Read More >
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.Read More >
- 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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