Anna Deavere Smith

Plenary Speaker

Playwright, actor, and professor Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to highlight issues of community, character, and diversity in America. Newsweek declared her “the most exciting individual in American theatre.”

Best known for crafting one-woman, multicharacter plays about American social issues, Smith has been awarded the 2013 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts, as well as the National Humanities Medal. The MacArthur Foundation honored Smith with the “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre—a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”

Smith’s most recent play, Let Me Down Easy, examines health care and the resilience and vulnerability of the human body. Opening in 2009, Easy aired on PBS’s Great Performances in 2012. Interviewing real people from all walks of life, Smith turns their words into scripts, transforming herself into an astonishing number of characters.
In 1997, Smith founded the Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue at Harvard, which is now known as Anna Deavere Smith (ADS) Works. ADS Works “cultivates artistic excellence that embraces the social issues of the day.”

A tenured professor at the New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts, Smith is also affiliated with the NYU School of Law. The winner of the 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to advancing civil rights, Smith won a Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications, a Fellow Award in Theatre Arts from United States Artists, and the United Solo Theatre Festival’s inaugural award. The artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, Smith is writing a new play, The Americans.

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