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Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–

Anna Deavere Smith 1950

Actress, playwright

Spawned Early Interest in Language

Developed Interviewing Style of Playwriting

Fires Illuminated Tragedy

The Empowering Effects of Twilight

Embodying Change

Exploring the American Presidency

Selected works

Sources

Anna Deavere Smith is a powerful and distinctive force in American theater. With a characteristic blend of compassion and hard-hitting honesty, she explores provocative topics such as racism, identity, and social justice through originaland highly unconventionalpieces of performance art. In the mid-1990s Newsweek critic Jack Kroll dubbed her the most exciting individual in the theater and called her one-woman performance Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 an American masterpiece. Smiths unique approach to her performances combines theatrical portrayal with scrupulous journalism: for Twilight and her previous piece, Fires in the Mirror, she interviewed scores of people and reproduced their words and mannerisms herselfaloneonstage.

As if these transformations werent sufficiently miraculous, Smith chose perhaps the most inflammatory issue in modern Americaracial and ethnic conflictas the basis for both shows. Rather than score rhetorical points, however, she chooses to blend diverse and often antagonistic testimonials to achieve balance in her performances. In doing so, argued Time theater critic William Simon III, she has created a new art form. As Smith herself wrote in Performing Arts, I am interested in where a persons unique relationship to the spoken word intersects with character. But, just as importantly, she added, I am also interested in the changing roles of men and women in society, and our current challenge to find new and creative ways to negotiate racial and ethnic difference.

Spawned Early Interest in Language

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 18, 1950, Smith grew up as the youngest of five children. Vogue related that her familys arrival in the city coincided with the beginning of white flightthe mass exodus of whites from cities in response to the World War II-era northern migration of blacks. When I was a little girl, she told the New York Times, my grandfather told meand I believed himthat if you say a word often enough it becomes your own. Her father, years later, revised the anecdote: If you say a word often enough, it becomes you, you become the word. When she was transferred to a mostly Jewish elementary school from an entirely black one, she explained to Vogue that she found herself excited by the different ways we talked

At a Glance

Born on September 18, 1950, in Baltimore, MD; daughter of Deavere (a coffee merchant) and Anna (an elementary school principal) Smith. Education: Beaver College, PA, BA, 1971; American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco, CA, MFA, 1977.

Career: Actor and performance artist, 1978-;Carnegie-Mellon University, acting instructor, 1978-79; University of Southern California, acting instructor, 1980s; National Theater Institute, acting instructor, 1980s; Yale University, visiting artist, 1982; New York University, acting instructor, 1983-84; American Conservatory Theater, acting instructor, 1986; Stanford University, associate professor of drama, 1990-2000; Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, Harvard University, founder and director, 1997-2000; Tisch School of the Arts and School of Law, New York University, professor, 2000.

Selected Awards: Drama-Logue Award, Obie Award, Drama Desk Award, all for Fires in the Mirror, 1992; Antoinette Perry Award, Obie Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, all for Twilight, 1993; MacArthur Award, 1996.

Addresses: Agent David Williams, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

and held ourselves, and I became very interested in language.

This interest, combined with an almost painfully developed sense of compassion, made Smith uniquely qualified for the theater. One reason I became an actress was that it was a constructive way of dealing with being empathetic, she told Vogue. As a child, I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but my mother told me I couldnt, because I was too sensitive. A movie like [the tragic interracial romance-musical] West Side Story would make me cry for two days straight.

In Newsweek, Smith described herself as a nice Negro girl before arriving at Pennsylvanias Beaver College, then an all-womens institution, where she became somewhat politicized. I came into my adulthood in a fractured, fragmented world, where the way of being black or Negro or colored had been questioned, the way of being a woman had been questioned, the way of being a man had been questioned, she recalled to the New York Times.

Developed Interviewing Style of Playwriting

Smith considered majoring in linguistics, or perhaps joining the Peace Corps. I wanted to do somethingI didnt know what it wasthat had to do with listening to people and trying to cause peace, she said. She made her way Westseeking the revolution, as she told Vogue and wound up at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, which awarded her a masters in fine arts in 1976. She took small acting jobs for a short time, and in 1978 she secured a position as an assistant professor in the theater department of prestigious Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. While attempting to invigorate and expand her students ideas about theater, she hit upon the notion of interviewing people in the street and having her students re-enact the interviewees testimonials.

This process would lead to the development of her one-woman shows. I realized this approach could serve to mirror a community that was interested in looking at itself, she told the New York Times. To mirror what they were going through and particularly communities where people were having difficulty saying things to one another or where people felt silenced by social inequities. Thus Smith went about formulating a kind of theatrical science of empathy.

Over the next several years she served as an acting teacher and visiting artist at Yale University, New York University, and the National Theater Institute; her plays On the Road: A Search for American Character the beginning of her cycle of real life performance piecesand Aye, Aye, Aye, Im Integrated, were staged in 1983 and 1984, in California and New York, respectively. Smith had appeared in the film Soup for One in 1982 and the television soap opera All My Children in 1983. She returned to the American Conservatory Theater in 1986 as a master teacher of acting, then joined the staff of the theater department at the University of Southern California and, later, Stanford University. Having established a solid career acting and teaching, Smith soon catapulted herself into the national limelight with her unique performance pieces that commented on some of Americas most difficult racial issues.

Fires Illuminated Tragedy

A tragic conflagration in Crown Heightsa Brooklyn, New York, neighborhoodformed the basis for Smiths Fires in the Mirror, a one-woman performance that debuted in 1992. After a car driven by a Hasidic Jew killed Gavin Cato, a young African-American boy, an enraged mob exacted its vengeance by killing Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish scholar visiting from Australia. The ensuing violent protests, angry threats, and denunciations provided a startling illustration of the depth of Americas disunity. Smiths approach to this painful subject followed her usual track: after interviewing scores of witnesses and commentators, she distilled her gathered material into a performance in which she mirrored the anger, pain, confusion, and humor of an ethnically and politically mixed group of people. The result, enthused Newsweek, is a riveting work that captures the tensions of racial, class and cultural conflict in what is hardly a melting pot but a boiling cauldron.

Smiths repertoire of real-life characters in Fires includes Gavin Catos father; Yankel Rosenbaums brother; Rabbi Joseph Spielman; black activists Angela Davis, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and Minister Conrad Muhammad; and several Crown Heights residents. Each voice in the performance seems to balance the last, as though each of the mutually contradictory and accusatory statementsand digressions, jokes, and anecdotesform a piece of a larger puzzle. For Smith, the crux lies in the perspective gained by placing them together. My voice is the juxtaposition of other voices, she told Newsweek. Its in the choices I make.

Part of that choice is to let people speak at length, rather than reducing them to the familiarand often antagonisticsound bites that make standard news coverage of racial conflict seem so devoid of depth or hope. Whats more, the recreation of these real-life texts in the theater finds hidden human dimensions. As she told Emerge magazine, What Im interested in is the moment when language is not easy for us. Even when it is easy, however, it often serves to conceal something else. [British playwright] Harold Pinter says, Speech is a strategy to cover nakedness, Smith told the New York Times. This nakednessthe yearning, anger, fear, and hope that exist beneath the linguistic strategies of Smiths interviewees and that she conveys with her own voice and bodyis the common humanity that only the theater can fully depict. During the course of Fires, theater critic Ralph Rugoff declared in Vogue that you realize shes changing the way you think about theater. Reviewing a version of the show that appeared on public television, New York critic John Leonard wrote, Smith is a chameleon and an exorcist. If she can speak in so many tongues, maybe the culture can hear them. As much as performance art, Fires in the Mirror is performance grace.

The Empowering Effects of Twilight

By the time Smith had brought her portrayal of the agonies and hopes of Crown Heights to fruition, Los Angeles had erupted into racial violence and wholesale fear. It all began when four L.A. police officers, who had been videotaped beating a black motorist named Rodney King, were put on trial. In the wake of their acquittal in April of 1992 by an all-white jury, the city saw its fiercest riotingsome called it rebellionin almost thirty years.

To deal with this piece of history, Smith began assembling a new installment of her On the Road series for the citys Mark Taper Forum. Working with director Emily Mann and a multicultural ensemble of dramaturges (specialists in dramatic production), who helped assemble the material, Smith emerged in 1993 with Twilight: Los Angeles 1992. Once again, she culled her performance entirely from interviews; this time she actually revised the piece after it began its run. A revealing interview with a juror in the second trial of the officers involved in the King beatinga federal civil rights trial that resulted in two of the officers being convictedwas quickly developed into a monologue that many regarded as the plays new centerpiece. Smith also portrayed former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, Rodney Kings aunt, a Latino artist, and many others; pieces performed in Korean and Spanishwhich Smith studied for the playrequired supertitles. As she has narrowed the cast of characters for this show, observed Taper director Gordon Davidson in Performing Arts, she has come to embody each of them, recreating the rhythms of their speech, absorbing them into her bones. In all Smith performed as 23 real-life black, white, and Korean people.

Each of the dramaturges had a specific set of political concerns, and this ideological diversity led to some animated debate during the creation of the play. Additional friction came from some local artists, who considered Smith an outsider. They said, What, youre bringing this success from New York to tell our story? She doesnt know st. This punk doesnt belong here, she confided to Newsweek. It made me sad and scared the living daylights out of me. But I understood it and respected it.

Meanwhile, Smith earned the respect and admiration of her Angeleno colleagues. As Héctor Tobar wrote in Performing Arts, At the heart of this work is the act of listening. Anna meets someone, takes his or her deepest, most heartfelt words, and puts them onstage. In effect, she is telling her audience that the words of these peoplea gang member, a corporate executive, a war refugee and otherscan carry weight and meaning as important as anything in [playwrights William] Shakespeare or [Eugene] ONeill. Tobar labeled Smiths highly developed listening a bold and culturally subversive act.

Embodying Change

By changing from one person to another, I show that change is possible, Smith told Time. And the fact that I am a black woman speaking for other ethnicities and for men raises the useful question of who is entitled to speak about what. Los Angeles Reader critic Michael Frym lauded the play in terms that fit Smiths dearest concerns: It will be difficult for audiences to maintain an us and them mindset after realizing the rich potential of the inclusive all. And Angela Kingwhose own words form part of Twilights tapestry of speechgave perhaps the most compelling testimony to the performances power: seeing it, she told Newsweek, she learned about love. I learned about how the riots affected the Koreans. I felt a lot of love for people I couldnt even stand before. This achievement of empathy is the essence of Smiths vision for the theater. As she explained to Vogue, Basically Im a spiritual person on a spiritual quest.

For her work on Fires and Twilight, Smith commanded national attention and a great deal of praise. Profiles of her career ran in The New Yorker, People magazine, and the Utne Reader. The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., awarded her a $100,000 commission to research her next installment of her On the Road series: House Arrest, which debuted in 1997. In addition, Smith won a MacArthur Genius Award in 1996 for the way she has advanced performance theory and introduced a new way for the theater to reflect, and reflect upon, society, as the directors of the MacArthur Foundation said in awarding her grant. One of Smiths skills lies in creating works that help those whose viewpoints are diametrically opposed to see the viewpoints of the other side. The following year, in association with the Ford Foundation, Smith founded the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard University, a summer program created around her unique approach to how the arts relate to social issues; it ran from 1997 through 2000.

Exploring the American Presidency

In 1995, Smith delved into a project about the American presidency. To create the play, Smith interviewed more than 400 people, from prison inmates to journalists to President Bill Clinton and former presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, along the presidential campaign trail of 1996 and afterward in Washington, D.C.

Although Smith had researched exhaustively, House Arrest: A Search for the American Character in and around the White House, Past and Present, fell short of criticsexpectations. Opening as the Monica Lewinsky scandal swept Washington, House Arrest began as an ensemble play of ever-shifting perspectives on the presidency, because Smith scrambled to add interviews that illuminated the breaking news. Smith honed the play into a final form within a year. This version was better received than the earlier attempts, but House Arrest never quite pleased critics. John Simon summed up the trouble in a review for the New York Metro website: While her earlier plays zeroed in on dire specific dramas seen from various angles through numerous interviews the new work is far more prolix, diffuse, and ultimately self-indulgent.

Smiths experience making House Arrest did result in a unique look at her approach to theater, however. As she worked on House Arrest, she documented her creative process in a book titled Talk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics, published in 2000. Although House Arrest failed to highlight Smiths genius, her book did. The New York Times Book Review captured the essence of Smiths talent, noting that, those who truly listen, truly hear.

Smith has carved a powerful place for herself in the theatrical community as a champion of arts ability to comment on social issues. She lectured about her theatrical techniques across the country and became a professor of performance studies in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 2000, where she also teaches courses on listening skills at the universitys School of Law.

Selected works

Books

Talk to Me: Listening between the Lines, Random House, 2000.

Film

Soup for One, 1982.

Dave, 1993.

Philadelphia, 1993.

The American President, 1995.

The Human Stain, 2003.

Plays

On the Road: A Search for American Character, first produced in California, 1983.

Aye, Aye, Aye, Im Integrated, first produced in New York, 1984.

Fires in the Mirror, first produced in 1992; also broadcast on PBS-TV as part of the Great Performances series, 1993.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, first produced in Los Angeles, 1993.

House Arrest: First Edition, first produced in Washington, D.C., 1997; finalized as House Arrest: A Search for the American Character in and around the White House, Past and Present, 1998.

Piano, first produced in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000.

Television

All My Children, ABC, 1983.

Fires in the Mirror, PBS, 1993.

The West Wing, NBC, 2000.

The Practice, ABC, 2000.

Presidio Med, 2002.

Other

Also author of numerous poems and journalistic articles.

Sources

Periodicals

Emerge, April 1993, p. 55.

Essence, November 1993, p. 60.

Los Angeles Reader, June 18, 1993.

Newsweek, June 1, 1992, p. 74; June 28, 1993, p. 62.

New York, May 3, 1993, p. 68.

New York Times, May 10, 1992, p. H14; June 10, 1992, pp. C1, C6; August 16, 1992, p. H20; April 23, 1993, pp. B7, C2; April 28, 1993, p. C18.

People, August 30, 1993, pp. 95-98.

Performing Arts, June 1993, pp. P1-16.

Time, May 3, 1993, p. 81; June 28, 1993, p. 73.

Vogue, April 1993, pp. 224, 238, 242, 250.

On-line

Anna Deavere Smiths House Arrest, New York Metro, www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/arts/theater/reviews/2637/ (February 10, 2004).

Brilliant Careers: Voice of America, Anna Deavere Smith Revolutionized Performing Arts by Bringing Street Realities into the Theater, Salon, www.salon.com/bc/1998/12/cov_08bc.html (February 10, 2004).

She, The People, Salon, http://dir.salon.com/books/feature/2000/11/01/smith/index.html (February 10, 2004).

Simon Glickman and Sara Pendergast

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Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–

Anna Deavere Smith 1950

Actress, playwright

At a Glance

Chose Theater to Cause Peace

Fires Illuminated Tragedy

The Empowering Effects of Twilight

The Embodiment of Change

Selected writings

Sources

Anna Deavere Smith is a powerful and distinctive force in American theater. With a characteristic blend of compassion and hard-hitting honesty, she explores provocative topics such as racism, identity, and social justice through originaland highly unconventionalpieces of performance art. Newsweek critic Jack Kroll dubbed her the most exciting individual in the theater right now and called her one-woman performance Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 an American masterpiece. Smiths unique approach to her performances combines theatrical portrayal with scrupulous journalism: for Twilight and her previous piece, Fires in the Mirror, she interviewed scores of people and reproduced their words and mannerisms herselfaloneonstage.

As if these transformations werent sufficiently miraculous, Smith chose perhaps the most inflammatory issue in modern Americaracial and ethnic conflictas the basis for both shows. Rather than score rhetorical points, however, she chooses to blend diverse and often antagonistic testimonials to achieve balance in her performances. In doing so, argued Time theater critic William Simon III, she has created a new art form. As Smith herself wrote in Performing Arts, I am interested in where a persons unique relationship to the spoken word intersects with character. But, just as importantly, she added, I am also interested in the changing roles of men and women in society, and our current challenge to find new and creative ways to negotiate racial and ethnic difference.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1950, Smith grew up as the youngest of five children. Vogue related that her familys arrival in the city coincided with the beginning of white flightthe mass exodus of whites from cities in response to the World War II-era northern migration of blacks. When I was a little girl, she told Francis X. Clines of the New York Times, my grandfather told meand I believed himthat if you say a word often enough it becomes your own. Her father, years later, revised the anecdote: If you say a word often enough, it becomes you, you become the word. When she was transferred to a mostly Jewish elementary school from an entirely black one, she explained to Vogues Ralph Rugoff, she found herself excited by the different ways we talked and held ourselves, and I became very interested in language.

This interest, combined with an almost painfully developed sense of compassion, made Smith uniquely qualified for the theater. One reason I became an actress was that it was a constructive way of dealing with being empathetic, she told

At a Glance

Born September 18, 1950, in Baltimore, MD; daughter of Deavere (a coffee merchant) and Anna (an elementary school principal; maiden name, Young) Smith. Education: Attended Beaver College; received M.F.A, from American Conservatory Theater, 1976.

Actress, playwright and drama teacher, 1978. Taught acting at Carnegie-Mellon University, 1978-79; New York University, 1983-84; American Conservatory Theater, 1986; University of Southern California; and the National Theater Institute. Visiting artist, Yale University, 1982. Associate professor of drama at Stanford University, 1990. Stage credits include productions of Horatio, Alma, The Ghost of Spring Street, Mother Courage, Tartuffe, Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992. Appeared on television series All My Children, 1983, and in Great Performances series version of Fires in the Mirror, PBS-TV, 1993; film credits include Soup for One, 1982, Dave, 1993, Philadelphia, 1993.

Addresses: Agent David Williams, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Rugoff. As a child, I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but my mother told me I couldnt, because I was too sensitive. A movie like [the tragic interracial romance-musical] West Side Story would make me cry for two days straight. In a Newsweek interview, Smith described herself as a nice Negro girl before arriving at Pennsylvanias Beaver College, then an all-womens institution, where she became somewhat politicized. I came into my adulthood in a fractured, fragmented world, where the way of being black or Negro or colored had been questioned, the way of being a woman had been questioned, the way of being a man had been questioned, she recalled to the New York Times.

Chose Theater to Cause Peace

Smith considered majoring in linguistics, or perhaps joining the Peace Corps. I wanted to do somethingI didnt know what it wasthat had to do with listening to people and trying to cause peace, she said. She made her way Westseeking the revolution, as she told Vogues Rugoffand wound up at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, which awarded her a masters in fine arts in 1976. She took small acting jobs for a short time, and in 1978 she secured a position as an assistant professor in the theater department of prestigious Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. While attempting to invigorate and expand her students ideas about theater, she hit upon the notion of interviewing people in the street and having her students re-enact the interviewees testimonials.

This process would lead to the development of her one-woman shows. I realized this approach could serve to mirror a community that was interested in looking at itself, she told the New York Times. To mirror what they were going through and particularly communities where people were having difficulty saying things to one another or where people felt silenced by social inequities. Thus Smith went about formulating a kind of theatrical science of empathy.

Over the next several years she served as an acting teacher and visiting artist at Yale University, New York University, and the National Theater Institute; her plays On the Road: A Search for American Character the beginning of her cycle of real life performance piecesand Aye, Aye, Aye, Im Integrated, were staged in 1983 and 1984, in California and New York, respectively. Smith had appeared in the film Soup for One in 1982 and the television soap opera All My Children in 1983. She returned to the American Conservatory Theater in 1986 as a master teacher of acting, then joined the staff of the theater department at the University of Southern California and, later, Stanford University.

Fires Illuminated Tragedy

A tragic conflagration in Crown Heightsa Brooklyn, New York neighborhoodformed the basis for Smiths Fires in the Mirror, a one-woman performance that debuted in 1992. After a car driven by a Hasidic Jew killed Gavin Cato, a young African American boy, an enraged mob exacted its vengeance by killing Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish scholar visiting from Australia. The ensuing violent protests and angry threats and denunciations provided a startling illustration of the depth of Americas disunity. Smiths approach to this painful subject followed her usual track: after interviewing scores of witnesses and commentators, she distilled her gathered material into a performance in which she mirrored the anger, pain, confusion, and humor of an ethnically and politically mixed group of people. The result, enthused Newsweeks Kroll, is a riveting work that captures the tensions of racial, class and cultural conflict in what is hardly a melting pot but a boiling cauldron.

Smiths repertoire of real-life characters in Fires ineludes Gavin Catos father; Yankel Rosenbaums brother; Rabbi Joseph Spielman; black activists Angela Davis, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Minister Conrad Muhammad; and several Crown Heights residents. Each voice in the performance seems to balance the last, as though each of the mutually contradictory and accusatory statementsand digressions, jokes, and anecdotesform a piece of a larger puzzle. For Smith, the crux lies in the perspective gained by placing them together. My voice is the juxtaposition of other voices, she said in a Newsweek profile. Its in the choices I make.

Part of that choice is to let people speak at length, rather than reducing them to the familiarand often antagonisticsoundbites that make standard news coverage of racial conflict seem so devoid of depth or hope. Whats more, the recreation of these real-life texts in the theater finds hidden human dimensions. As she told Emerge magazine, What Im interested in is the moment when language is not easy for us. Even when it is easy, however, it often serves to conceal something else. [British playwright] Harold Pinter says, Speech is a strategy to cover nakedness, Smith noted in a New York Times interview. This nakednessthe yearning, anger, fear, and hope that exist beneath the linguistic strategies of Smiths interviewees, which she conveys with her own voice and bodyis the common humanity that perhaps only the theater can fully depict. During the course of Fires, declared Vogues Rugoff, you realize shes changing the way you think about theater. Reviewing a version of the show that appeared on public television, New York critic John Leonard wrote, Smith is a chameleon and an exorcist. If she can speak in so many tongues, maybe the culture can hear them. As much as performance art, Fires in the Mirror is performance grace.

The Empowering Effects of Twilight

Of course, by the time Smith had brought her portrayal of the agonies and hopes of Crown Heights to fruition, Los Angeles had erupted into racial violence and wholesale fear. It all began when four L.A. police officers, who had been videotaped beating a black motorist named Rodney King, were put on trial. In the wake of their acquittal in April 1992 by an all-white jury, the city saw its fiercest riotingsome called it rebellionin almost thirty years.

To deal with this piece of history, Smith began assembling a new installment of her On the Road series for the citys Mark Taper Forum. Working with director Emily Mann and a multicultural ensemble of dramaturges (specialists in dramatic production) who helped assemble the material, Smith emerged in 1993 with Twilight: Los Angeles 1992. Once again, she culled her performance entirely from interviews; this time she actually revised the piece after it began its run. A revealing interview with a juror in the second trial of the officers involved in the King beatinga federal civil rights trial that resulted in two of them being convictedwas quickly developed into a monologue that many regarded as the plays new centerpiece. Smith also portrayed former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, Rodney Kings aunt, a Latino artist, and many others; pieces performed in Korean and Spanishwhich Smith studied for the playrequired supertitles. As she has narrowed the cast of characters for this show, observed Taper director Gordon Davidson in Performing Arts, she has come to embody each of them, recreating the rhythms of their speech, absorbing them into her bones.

Each of the dramaturges had a specific set of political concerns, and this ideological diversity led to some animated debate during the creation of the play. Additional friction came from some local artists, who considered Smith an outsider. They said, What, youre bringing this success from New York to tell our story? She doesnt know st. This punk doesnt belong here, she confided to Newsweek. It made me sad and scared the living daylights out of me. But I understood it and respected it.

Meanwhile, Smith earned the respect and admiration of her Angeleno colleagues. As Héctor Tobar wrote in Performing Arts, At the heart of this work is the act of listening. Anna meets someone, takes his or her deepest, most heartfelt words, and puts them onstage. In effect, she is telling her audience that the words of these peoplea gang member, a corporate executive, a war refugee and otherscan carry weight and meaning as important as anything in [playwrights William] Shakespeare or [Eugene] ONeill. Tobar labeled Smiths highly developed listening a bold and culturally subversive act.

The Embodiment of Change

By changing from one person to another, I show that change is possible, Smith told Time. And the fact that I am a black woman speaking for other ethnicities and for men raises the useful question of who is entitled to speak about what. Los Angeles Reader critic Michael Frym lauded the play in terms that fit Smiths dearest concerns: It will be difficult for audiences to maintain an us and them mindset after realizing the rich potential of the inclusive all. And Rodney Kings aunt, Angela Kingwhose own words form part of Twilights tapestry of speechgave perhaps the most compelling testimony of the performances power: seeing it, she told Newsweek, she learned about love. I learned about how the riots affected the Koreans. I felt a lot of love for people I couldnt even stand before. This achievement of empathy is the essence of Smiths vision for the theater. As she explained to Vogue, Basically Im a spiritual person on a spiritual quest.

Selected writings

Plays

On the Road: A Search for American Character, first produced in California, 1983.
Aye, Aye, Aye, Im Integrated, first produced in New York, 1984.

Fires in the Mirror, first produced in 1992; also broadcast on PBS-TV as part of the Great Performances series, 1993.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, first produced at Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1993.

Also author of the plays A Birthday Card and Aunt Julias Shoes; author of poems and journalistic articles.

Sources

Emerge, April 1993, p. 55.

Essence, November 1993, p. 60.

Los Angeles Reader, June 18, 1993.

Newsweek, June 1, 1992, p. 74; June 28, 1993, p. 62.

New York, May 3, 1993, p. 68.

New York Times, May 10, 1992, p. H14; June 10, 1992, pp. C1, C6; August 16, 1992, p. H20; April 23, 1993, pp. B7, C2; April 28, 1993, p. C18.

People, August 30, 1993, pp. 95-98.

Performing Arts, June 1993, pp. P1-16.

Time, May 3, 1993, p. 81; June 28, 1993, p. 73.

Vogue, April 1993, pp. 224, 238, 242, 250.

Simon Glickman

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"Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/smith-anna-deavere-1950

"Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/smith-anna-deavere-1950

Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–

SMITH, Anna Deavere 1950


PERSONAL


Middle name is pronounced "Duhveer"; born September 18, 1950, in Baltimore, MD; daughter of Deavere Young (a coffee merchant) and Anna (an elementary school principal; maiden name, Young) Smith. Education: Beaver College, B.A., 1971; American Conservatory Theatre, M.F.A., 1976.

Addresses: Agent Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.


Career: Actress, producer, and writer. American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, CA, member of company, 197476; CarnegieMellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, assistant professor of theatre, 197879; Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting artist, 1982; New York University, New York City, teacher of acting, 198384; National Theatre Institute, visiting teacher, 198485; American Conservatory Theatre, master teacher of acting, 1986, member of company, 198889; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, professor of theatre, 1990, Ann O'Day Maples Professor of the Arts, c. 2003; University of Southern California, assistant professor; Lincoln Center Institute, teaching artist; Harvard University, director of Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, 1998; previously worked at KLM Airlines as a customer service representative, 1976.


Member: Directors Guild of America, Dramatists Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Screen Actors Guild, Actors' Equity Association.


Awards, Honors: DramaLogue Award, Obie Award, Village Voice, Drama Desk Award, Lucille Lortel Award, George and Elisabeth Marton Award, Kesselring Prize, and Pulitzer Prize nomination, drama, all 1992, for Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities; Antoinette Perry Award, best play, Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best actress, Obie Award, Drama Desk Award, and Special Achievement Award, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World Award, 1994, all for Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992; Theatre World Award, outstanding new talent, 199394; Special Award, New York Drama Critics Circle, 1994, for Three Tall Women; honorary degree from Wheelock College, 1995; grant from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 1996; Ford Foundation grant, 1997; Colgate University, honorary degree, 1997; School for Visual Arts, honorary degree, 1997; Wesleyan University, honorary degree, 1997; Northwestern University, honorary degree, 1997; College of the Holy Cross, honorary degree, 1997; Helen Hayes Award, outstanding lead actressnonresident production, 1998, for Twilight: Los Angeles; Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, 2003, for The West Wing; grants from National Theatre Artist Residency Program; honorary degree from Beaver College; fellow of Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College.


CREDITS


Stage Appearances:

(Stage debut) The savage, Horatio, American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1974.

(New York debut) Marie Laveau, Alma, the Ghost of Spring Street, La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, 1976.

Mother Courage, New York Shakespeare Festival, New York City, 1980.

On the Road, Clear Space Theatre, New York City, 1982, then Berkeley Repertory Co., Berkeley, CA, 1983.

A Birthday Party and Aunt Julia's Shoes (original poems), Ward Nasse Gallery, New York City, 1983.

Doreen, Tartuffe, GeVa Theatre, Rochester, NY, 1983.

Charlayne Hunter Gault, Ward Nasse Gallery, 1984.

Aye, Aye, Aye, I'm Integrated, American Place Theatre, New York City, 1984.

Building Bridges, Not Walls, National Conference of Women and the Law, New York City, 1985.

On the Road: ACT, American Conservatory Theatre, 1986.

Voices of Bay Area Women, Phoenix Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1988.

Chlorophyll PostModernism and the Mother Goddess: A Convers/Ation, Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre, San Diego, CA, 1988.

Gender Bending: On the Road Princeton University, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 1989.

Piano, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Los Angeles, 19891990.

Gender Bending: On the Road University of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1990.

On Black Identity and Black Theatre, Crossroads Theatre Company, New Brunswick, NJ, 1990.

From the Outside Looking In, Eureka Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1990.

Fragments, Conference on Intercultural Performance, Bellagio, Italy, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions I, Calistoga Arts Festival, Calistoga, CA, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions II, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, San Francisco, CA, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions III, Global Communities Conference, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions IV, Festival of New Voices, Joseph Papp Public Theatre, New York City, 1991.

Dream (workshop), Crossroads Theatre Company, 1992.

Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities (solo show), Joseph Papp Public Theatre, 1992, then Royal Court Theatre, London, 1993.

Hymn (ballet), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, City Center Theatre, New York City, 1993.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (solo show), Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1993, then Joseph Papp Public Theatre, later Cort Theatre, New York City, both 1994.

Three Tall Women, New York City production, 1994.

House Arrest: First Edition (twoact), Kreeger Theatre, Washington, DC, 1997.

House Arrest, Joseph Papp Public Theatre/Newman Theatre, 2000.

Stage Work:

Artistic advisor, Nickel and Dimed, Intiman Theater, Seattle, WA, 2002.

Film Appearances:

(Film debut) Deborah, Soup for One, Warner Bros., 1982.

Anna, Unfinished Business ... , American Film Institute, 1987.

Mrs. Travis, Dave, Warner Bros., 1993.

Anthea Burton, Philadelphia, TriStar, 1993.

Robin McCall, The American President, Columbia, 1995.

Herself, Twilight: Los Angeles (documentary), Offline Releasing, 2000.

Mrs. Silk, The Human Stain, Miramax, 2003.

Film Work:

Producer, Twilight: Los Angeles, Offline Releasing, 2000.

Television Appearances; Series:

(Television debut) Hazel, All My Children, ABC, 1983.

Nancy McNally, a recurring role, The West Wing, NBC, 2000.

Dr. Letty Jordan, Presidio Med, CBS, 2002.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Expert Witness, CBS, 2003.

Television Appearances: Specials:

The Issue Is Race, PBS, 1992.

"Fires in the Mirror," American Playhouse, PBS, 1993.

Narrator, Hawaii's Last Queen, PBS, 1997.

A Hymn for Alvin Ailey, PBS, 1999.

Jessye Norman Sings for the Healing of AIDS, PBS, 2000.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

District Attorney Kate Brunner, "Summary Judgments, " The Practice, ABC, 2000.

District Attorney Kate Brunner, "Germ Warfare, " The Practice, ABC, 2000.

District Attorney Kate Brunner, "We Hold These Truths ... ," The Practice, ABC, 2000.

District Attorney Kate Brunner, "The Deal," The Practice, ABC, 2000.

Ms. Davis, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished," 100 Centre Street, Arts and Entertainment, 2001.

Also appeared as correspondent, Life 360, PBS.

RECORDINGS

Taped Readings:

Hannah Crafts' The Bondswoman's Narrative, Time Warner Audiobooks, 2002.

WRITINGS

Plays:

On the Road, produced at Clear Space, New York City, 1982, then by Berkeley Repertory Co., Berkeley, CA, 1983.

A Birthday Party (original poems), performed at Ward Nasse Gallery, New York City, 1983.

Aunt Julia's Shoes (original poems), performed at Ward Nasse Gallery, 1983.

Charlayne Hunter Gault, performed at Ward Nasse Gallery, 1984.

Aye, Aye, Aye, I'm Integrated, produced at American Place Theatre, New York City, 1984.

Building Bridges, Not Walls, performed at National Conference of Women and the Law, New York City, 1985.

On the Road: ACT, produced by American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1986.

Voices of Bay Area Women, produced at Phoenix Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1988.

Chlorophyll PostModernism and the Mother Goddess: A Convers/Ation, produced at Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre, 1988.

Gender Bending: On the Road Princeton University, produced at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 1989.

Piano, produced at Los Angeles Theatre Center, Los Angeles, 19891990.

Gender Bending: On the Road University of Pennsylvania, produced at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1990.

On Black Identity and Black Theatre, produced by Crossroads Theatre Company, New Brunswick, NJ, 1990.

From the Outside Looking In, produced at Eureka Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1990.

Fragments, performed at Conference on Intercultural Performance, Bellagio, Italy, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions I, produced at Calistoga Arts Festival, Calistoga, CA, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions II, produced at Bay Area Playwrights Festival, San Francisco, CA, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions III, produced at Global Communities Conference, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 1991.

Identities, Mirrors, and Distortions IV, produced at Festival of New Voices, Joseph Papp Public Theatre, New York City, 1991.

Dream (workshop), produced by Crossroads Theatre Company, 1992.

Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities (solo show), produced at Joseph Papp Public Theatre, 1992, then Royal Court Theatre, London, 1993, published by Anchor Books (New York), 1993.

(With Judith Jamison) Hymn (ballet), produced by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, City Center Theatre, New York City, 1993.

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (solo show), produced at Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1993, then Joseph Papp Public Theatre, later Cort Theatre, both 1994, published as TwilightLos Angeles, 1992 on the Road: A Search for American Character, Anchor Books, 1994.

Three Tall Women, New York City production, 1994.

House Arrest: First Edition (twoact), produced at Kreeger Theatre, Washington, DC, 1997.

House Arrest, produced at Public Theatre, New York City, 2000.

Screenplays:

Twilight: Los Angeles, 2000.

Television Specials:

"Fires in the Mirror" (based on her stage play), American Playhouse, PBS, 1993.

Books:

Talk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics, 2001.

OTHER SOURCES

Books:

Contemporary Authors, Volume 133, Gale, 1991.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 6, Gale Research, 1994.

Newsmakers, Issue 22, Gale Group, 2002.

Notable Black American Women, Book 3, Gale Group, 2002.

Periodicals:

American Theatre, October, 1996, p. 18; December, 1998, p. 68.

Interview, September, 1996, p. 46.

New York Times, June 10, 1992, pp. C1, C6; April 23, 1993, pp. B7, C2; January 29, 1997.

People Weekly, December 11, 2000, p. 187.

Publishers Weekly, September 18, 2000, p. 94.

Variety, February 3, 1997, p. 56.

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"Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Smith, Anna Deavere 1950–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/smith-anna-deavere-1950-1