Anna Deavere Smith

2019 Fellow

Anna Deveare Smith

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.

Smith’s “Notes from the Field,” winner of an Obie Award and the 2017 Nortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, looks at the School-to-Prison Pipeline and injustice and inequality in low-income communities. 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” deliver a vivid look at healthcare in the United States.

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.” She stars in the ABC legal drama “For the People,” which is now in its second season.

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.

Anna Deveare Smith was in residence March 21-22, 2019. The Richman award ceremony and presentation was held on Thursday, March 21, 2019.


Anna Deveare Smith

”Snapshots: Portraits of a World in Transition,“ March 21, 2019

Anna Deavere Smith, Germaine Ingram and Tom King

Anna Deavere Smith in conversation with performance artist Germaine Ingram and Tom King, Professor of English, March 21, 2019

“I'm old enough now to know that there are very small windows in America where we care about race. We then had this year. Dreadful! We could have had a film festival of all the videos we saw of people being shot by police or being abused by police officers. And so I knew — man, I got to get in this window, and that I wouldn't have time to write a 'traditional play.' I just better get on stage and do what I can do.”

Anna Deveare Smith

From her lecture "Snapshots: Portraits of a World in Transition." March 21, 2019