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Playwright, actor, and educator Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theater 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 theater — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”
Best known for crafting more than 15 one-woman shows drawn from hundreds of interviews, Smith turns these conversations into scripts and transforms herself onstage into a number of characters. In her speaking events, Smith discusses the many “complex identities of America,” and interweaves her discussions with portrayals of people she has interviewed to illustrate the diversity of emotions and points of view on controversial issues.
Her most recent play, “Notes from the Field,” looks at the school-to-prison pipeline and injustice and inequality in low-income communities. Winner of an Obie Award and the 2017 Nortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, “Notes from the Field” was named one of the Top 10 Plays of the year by Time magazine. There is a film adaptation available through HBO and a paperback adaption.
In 2012, Smith was awarded the National Humanities Medal, presented by President Obama and in 2015, she 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 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, Smith appears on the ABC’s series “Black-ish” and the ABC legal drama “For the People.” She is probably most recognizable as the hospital administrator on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” and the national security adviser 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 was appointed to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2017 U.S. Mayors Challenge Committee, a nationwide competition urging innovative solutions for the toughest issues confronting U.S. cities. She holds honorary degrees from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and Julliard, among others.
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