Anna Deavere Smith

Updated
30 Nov 2016

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Anna Deavere Smith.

"I believe that theater is really a place where we can, together, seek meaning. [...] And I feel in our country right now, in such a fractious society where you could live very well with the people who laugh when you laugh and cry when you cry, that it's really important to know about that stranger sitting next to you."

It's often said that actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith has created a new form of theater. She has created over 15 one-person shows based on hundreds of interviews, combining journalistic technique with the art of interpreting people's words through performance. She was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for her play Fires in the Mirror (1992), which chronicled the viewpoints of people from two different communities, Black and Jewish, connected to the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, crisis of 1991. Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, which dealt with the Los Angeles race riots, was performed around the country and on Broadway. Her most recent one-person show, Let Me Down Easy (2008), focuses on health care in the United States. Deavere Smith is also an accomplished television and film actress, appearing in series such as Nurse Jackie and The West Wing and movies such as The American President, Rachel Getting Married, and Philadelphia. Her books include Letters to A Young Artist (2006) and Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines (2000). She is founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, a center for artistic excellence addressing social change, and a University Professor of Performance Studies at NYU Tisch. She has received two Tony nominations, an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle, a MacArthur Fellowship, and numerous other honors.

In March 2011, Deavere Smith spoke with Catherine Sheehy about the evolution of Let Me Down Easy. Sponsored by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, this event was part of the American Playwrights in Context series at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.