Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith is a playwright, actor, and professor who uses her singular brand of theatre to highlight 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 one-woman shows based on conversations with real people from all walks of life, Smith turns her interviews into scripts, transforming herself into an astonishing number of characters. For her multi-character plays about American social issues, Smith has been awarded the 2013 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship for theatre arts.
Smith’s breakthrough plays, Fires in the Mirror and the Tony-nominated Twilight: Los Angeles, which dramatized the LA Riots in the days that followed the Rodney King trial, tackle the issues of race and social inequality that have become touchstones of her work. Her play on the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, continues in this tradition by exploring the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration prevalent in low-income communities. With a mix of personalities based on patients and healthcare professionals, Let Me Down Easy examines healthcare and the resilience and vulnerability of the human body. The show aired on PBS’ Great Performances.
Smith’s television credits include Showtime's Nurse Jackie, The West Wing, Black-ish, and Madame Secretary. She has also appeared in films, including Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, and The American President.
In 1997, Smith founded Anna Deavere Smith Works at Harvard. Now part of the Aspen Institute, where Smith is on the Board of Trustees, ADS Works “cultivates artistic excellence that embraces the social issues of the day.” A University Professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and an affiliate with the NYU School of Law, Smith delivered the 2015 NEH Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.
What People are Saying About Anna Deavere Smith
“Anna Deveare Smith is] the ultimate impressionist: she does people’s souls.”
—The New York Times