About Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is probably most recognizable in popular culture as Gloria Akalitus on Showtime’s hit series Nurse Jackie, or as Nancy McNally, national security advisor on NBC’s former hit The West Wing. Yet, her work in the theater has been a central part of her artistic life. It has been said that she created a new form of theater.

Anna Deavere Smith Biography

When granted the prestigious MacArthur Award, her work was described as “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.” Ms. Smith’s theater combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance. These one-woman shows are a part of a series she began in the early 1980s called On the Road: A Search for American Character. A reviewer for The New York Times, writing about her Broadway show Twilight: Los Angeles, which depicted the 1992 Los Angeles riots, said of her performance that she’s “the ultimate impressionist: she does people’s souls.” Jack Kroll of Newsweek proclaimed the work “an American masterpiece.”

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Her most recent work Let Me Down Easy deals with the subject of health care. It ran for six months at New York’s Second Stage Theater, and then toured for nine months around the US. Its PBS broadcast (January 2012) is a part of PBS’s arts initiative.

Anna Deavere Smith has received two Tony nominations, an Obie, Drama Desk Award, Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle, and numerous other honors.

She has been featured in several films, among them The American President, The Human Stain, Life Support, and Rachel Getting Married.

She produced, wrote, and performed the film version of Twilight for PBS. Another of her plays, Fires in the Mirror, which examined a race riot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (1991) was also created as a film for PBS.

Anna Deavere Smith is author of Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines and Letters to a Young Artist (Random House). She has written for The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker, OMagazine, Elle, Essence, and The Drama Review as well as other publications.

She has been invited to be and served as Artist in Residence in diverse environments: The Ford Foundation, MTV Networks, The Aspen Institute, the Center for American Progress, and Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

Anna Deavere Smith has several honorary degrees including those from Juilliard, The School of Visual Arts, University of Pennsylvania (2012), Wesleyan, Radcliffe, Northwestern, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Barnard, Simmons College, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and others.

Also, Anna Deavere Smith is a University Professor at New York University.

About Anna Deavere Smith Works

Anna Deavere Smith Works, Inc. (ADS Works) founded by actress, playwright, and educator Anna Deavere Smith, cultivates artistic excellence that embraces the social issues of the day. It is a place for artistic excellence and social change. We host conferences and events that bring together artists, thinkers and activists across disciplines.

We find common ground among dancers and musicians, painters and sculptors, playwrights and actors representing many distinct styles and genres. Part of a global initiative, we are stretching across the boundaries of class, nation, and culture to fashion community among the creators and consumers of art. We are connecting artists to the intellectuals, activists and policy makers who illuminate some of the world’s most pressing problems.

ADS Works, a “chosen institute” of the Provost’s office at New York University, is increasingly viewed as a global leader in linking art and civic stewardship as a potent force for change. Over the past 15 years, we have convened renowned artists and interacted with audiences in novel ways to examine such compelling issues as Arab Spring, the Haitian earthquake, ethnic cleansing, culturally bound ideas about beauty, how to invigorate artist communities in environments where they are not traditionally cultivated, and many more.