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Anna Deavere Smith          

Award-Winning Actress, Playwright & Social Commentator

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher, and author. She is credited with creating a new form of theater. Her most recent original work, "Notes from the Field," looks at the vulnerability of youth, the criminal justice system, and contemporary activism. The New York Times named the stage version among The Best Theater of 2016 and TIME Magazine called it one of the Top 10 Plays of the Year. HBO premiered the film version in February 2018. It was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award.

By looking at current events from multiple points of view, Smith’s theater combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance. Plays include "Fires In the Mirror," "Twilight: Los Angeles," "House Arrest," and "Let Me Down Easy." "Twilight: Los Angeles" was nominated for two Tony Awards. "Fires in the Mirror" was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2012, President Obama awarded Smith the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal. She is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. Other awards include the prestigious 2013 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for achievement in the arts, the George Polk Career Award in Journalism, and the Ridenhour Courage Award. In 2015, she was named the Jefferson Lecturer, the nation’s highest honor in the humanities. She has been given several honorary degrees including those from Yale, Juilliard, University of Pennsylvania, Smith College, and Spelman.

Smith is also a television and film actress. Credits include such shows as Shonda Rhimes’s new “untitled project,” ABC’s series "For the People" and "Blackish." She also co-starred on Showtime’s "Nurse Jackie" and was featured on the long running series, The West Wing. Films include The American President, Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, Dave, Rent, and Human Stain.

Smith is a Full Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she founded the former Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue.

Speech Topics


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.


If teachers, parents administrators, civic leaders, and politicians fail to listen; if they are over enchanted with their own voices or with some voices and not others, they will miss the opportunity to create community. A community of many strong voices with compelling questions is at the heart of a vibrant classroom, a vigorous citizenry, and a learned society.


Anna Deavere Smith researched health care, not from the perspective of politics, but through the stories of real people. She interviewed a few hundred people in the US and Africa in order to write and perform her critically acclaimed play “Let Me Down Easy.” From the perspective of doctors, patients, and people who push their bodies to the limit for sport and fashion, she brings the human touch to the issue of health care. In the end, the story of health care is the story of the vulnerability of the body and the resilience of the spirit.


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 were able to have grace in the face of dramatic adversities. The speech celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, and the power of kindness, the strength of imagination in hope.


An exploration of race, community and character in America. Ms. Smith 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 chasm" of what she calls the "complex identity of America," Ms. Smith slips in and out of character during the course of her presentation, recreating a diversity of emotions and points of view on controversial issues.


Gantt Symposium 2016 Featuring Anna Deavere Smith - The Harvey ...
Anna Deavere Smith, who is said to have created a new form of theatre, has been listening to people across the country from all walks of life for the last several ...
In 'Notes,' an education in injustice from Anna Deavere Smith - The ...
In her powerful solo performance at the ART, Anna Deavere Smith portrays an array of characters ... By Patti Hartigan Globe Correspondent August 26, 2016.
Second Stage Theater 2016-17 Season: Anna Deavere Smith, Tracy ...
The latest from writer- performer Smith is culled from more than 200 interviews centering on the U.S. education and justice systems.

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