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Anna Deavere Smith          

Award-Winning Actress, Playwright, Social Commentator

Playwright, actor, and professor Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to highlight issues of community, character, and diversity in America. Newsweek declared her “the most exciting individual in American theatre.”

Best known for crafting one-woman, multi-character plays about American social issues, Smith has been awarded the 2013 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts, as well as the National Humanities Medal. 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.”

Her play, Fires in the Mirror, about the 1991 Crown Heights riot, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, took home Obie and Drama Desk Awards. Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 won Drama Desk and Obie Awards and received two Tony Award nominations.

Smith’s most recent play, 2009's Let Me Down Easy, examines health care and the resilience and vulnerability of the human body. Easy aired on PBS’ Great Performances in 2012. Interviewing real people from all walks of life, Smith turns their words into scripts, transforming herself into an astonishing number of characters.

In addition to appearing on Showtime's Nurse Jackie, Smith’s television credits include The West Wing and All My Children. She has appeared in films, including Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, and The American President. Her latest book is Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts.

In 1997 Smith founded Anna Deavere Smith Works at Harvard. Now part of the Aspen Institute, ADS Works “cultivates artistic excellence that embraces the social issues of the day.”

A tenured professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Smith is also affiliated with the NYU School of Law and is on the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Institute. The winner of the 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to advancing civil rights, Smith won a Matrix Award from the New York Women In Communications, a Fellow Award in Theatre Arts for the United States Artists, and the United Solo Theatre Festival’s inaugural uAward.

The Artist-in-Residence at the Center for American Progress, Smith is writing a new play, The Americans, and Notes From the Field: Doing Time In Education—The California Chapter.

Speech Topics


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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 ...

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