Citation for Anna Deavere Smith

President Hansen, I am honored to present Anna Deavere Smith.

America is complicated and contested terrain, a nation of individuals, each with a story, a past, a future, a role in the here and now. How do we acknowledge every voice in a just and civil society? Today we honor a woman who uses her artistic power to give voice and meaning to our collective experience.

Actor, playwright, journalist, and teacher, Anna Deavere Smith has made her life’s work the exploration of the role the arts play in our understanding of community, society, and nation. Confronting some of the most controversial issues of our time — the unfolding of traumatic events as they cross the lines of race, class, and gender — she summons the acuity of a reporter, the mindfulness of an editor, and the nuance of an actor.

Basing her dramatic works on interviews of individuals from across the spectrum of American society, Ms. Smith preserves and honors each voice, and each is enhanced in concert with others. A student of language and gesture, she dwells as much on how we say things as what we say. When she has gathered these voices, it is often she alone who recreates them on stage, in virtuosic performances in which she inhabits the very souls of her witnesses. Here is testimony of our time in performances that show the hopes, fears, self-interests, and generosity of average Americans caught in the messy struggle to live together.

For her unflinching attention to our most pressing social concerns, for her keen observation of ordinary Americans, for the honesty with which she amplifies each voice, I present Anna Deveare Smith for the degree Doctor of Fine Arts.

President’s conferral:

Anna Deavere Smith, you bring the voices of Americans of all races and classes to our common conversation about who we are and what we hope to become as a nation; your work challenges and inspires us. Therefore by the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities which here and everywhere pertain to this degree.