Around the Institute

Institute Trustee and Program Director Receives National Humanities Medal

July 9, 2013

Anna Deavere Smith performs at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival.

On July 10, President Barack Obama officially awarded actress, playwright, and Aspen Institute Trustee Anna Deavere Smith a 2012 National Humanities Medal, one of the nation’s top humanities honors. The executive director of the Institute’s most recently added program, ADS Works, is among 23 peers from the arts and humanities community to receive the National Humanities Medal and National Medal of Arts this year. The award recipients received their medals in an award presentation held at the White House.

Smith is said to have created a new form of theater. The former Aspen Institute Harman-Eisner Artist-in-Residence, MacArthur Fellow, and two-time Tony Award nominee created over 15 one-person shows — portrayals the White House has praised for her use of “authentic American voices” — based on hundreds of interviews, most of which dealt with social issues. 

At the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival, Smith performed a reading of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” accompanied by violinist Robert McDuffie. The performance honored the 50th anniversary of King’s missive, which quickly became one of the seminal texts used in the Aspen Seminar. The timing also coincided with the 50th anniversary of its publication in The Atlantic, the Institute’s partner in the Festival.