Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith

Aspen Institute Trustee, Institute on Arts and Civic Dialogue

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher, and author who has been credited with creating a new form of theater. Her work combines journalism with self-honed performance techniques and dramaturgy. She has made over fifteen one-person shows using this technique. New York Times critic David Richards wrote of her work: “Smith is the ultimate impressionist, she does people’s souls.”

Smith’s latest play, Notes from the Field, addresses the vulnerability of impoverished youth to the criminal justice system. In 2016, The New York Times listed Notes from the Field among the best theater of the year and Time magazine listed it among the top 10 plays of the year. In 2018, HBO premiered the film version of Notes from the Field. Smith was runner up for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play Fires In the Mirror (1992). In 2018, her play Twilight: Los Angeles (1993) was named by The New York Times as one of the best plays of the last twenty-five years.

Smith was a regular actor on television shows The West Wing, Nurse Jackie, and For the People. Additional film and television work includes The American President, Philadelphia, Rachel Getting Married, and Black–ish.

President Obama awarded Smith the National Humanities Medal in 2013. Additional honors include the prestigious MacArthur Award, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for achievement in the arts, the George Polk Career Award in Journalism, the Dean’s Medal from the Stanford University School of Medicine, two Tony nominations and several honorary degrees. In 2019, she was inducted to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a University Professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she is also the founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue.