Anna Deavere Smith

Playwright, actor, and author Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theater to explore issues of race, community and character in America. In 1996, she was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (known as a “genius” grant) for creating “a new form of theater — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie.”

Smith is perhaps best known as the author and performer of two one-woman plays about racial tensions in American cities: Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, which earned two Tony nominations. Combining the journalistic technique of interviewing subjects from all walks of life with the art of recreating their words in performance, Smith, a two-time Obie winner, transforms herself onstage into an astonishing number of characters (up to 46 in one show), expressing their own points of view on controversial issues.

In 2004, Smith released two plays, House Arrest and Piano, that question the power of the media in shaping our “truths.” She has appeared in many television shows, including a recurring role in The West Wing and most recently in Life Support on HBO, about HIV in the African American community, and in motion pictures, including Philadelphia, The American President and The Manchurian Candidate.

In 1998, in association with the Ford Foundation, Smith founded the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard (now at New York University). The institute’s mission is to explore the role of the arts in relation to vital social issues. Smith is a tenured professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, with an affiliation with the NYU Law School.

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