VIDEO: On This Day, September 18- Happy Birthday, Anna Deavere Smith!
On this day, we celebrate the birthday of playwright, activist, actor, and educator, Anna Deavere Smith.
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 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship for creating "a new form of theatre-a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie" in 1996, and she received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2012. 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.
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. Smith wrote and performed several well-received plays as part of the On the Road project. Her breakthrough work was Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (1992). Smith crafted the play from her own in-depth interviews, and she performed all 29 roles, moving seamlessly from one character to the next. The show received high critical praise and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 her next offering
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. Time magazine named it one of the Top 10 Plays of the year. In his New York Times review of Notes from the Field, Ben Brantley called Smith "the American theater's most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian." The film adaptation of Notes from the Field will be available through HBO in February 2018 with executive production by Gary Goetzman and Smith.
In 2000 Smith joined the faculty at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University where she founded the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, originally launched at Harvard University. In 2008 she premiered a one-woman play,
Let Me Down Easy, which explored the resiliency and vulnerability of the human body. Smith portrayed more than 20 characters, who spoke out about current events such as genocide in Rwanda, steroid use among athletes, AIDS in Africa, and the U.S. healthcare system.,
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, was a similarly crafted exploration of the violence that erupted after the acquittal of four white police officers charged in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African American. In 2008 she premiered a one-woman play, Let Me Down Easy, which explored the resiliency and vulnerability of the human body. Smith portrayed more than 20 characters, who spoke out about current events such as genocide in Rwanda, steroid use among athletes, AIDS in Africa, and the U.S. healthcare system.The show aired on PBS' Great Performances.
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, in addition to her roles on All My Children. Her films include The American President, Rachel Getting Married, The Manchurian Candidate and Philadelphia. During the 2017-2018 television season, she starred in the ABC legal drama For the People.
Her books includeTalk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics (2000) and Letters to a Young Artist (2006). 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.