Anna Deavere Smith
|Anna Deavere Smith|
Smith in 2009
September 18, 1950 |
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Anna Deavere Smith (born September 18, 1950) is an American actress, playwright, and professor. She is currently the artist in residence at the Center for American Progress. Smith is widely known for her roles as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally in The West Wing and as Hospital Administrator Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie. She is a recipient of The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2013), one of the richest prizes in the American arts with a remuneration of $300,000.
Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Anna (née Young), an elementary school principal, and Deavere Young Smith, a coffee merchant. Smith is an alumna of the historic Western High School. She then attended Beaver College (now Arcadia University), graduating in 1971. She received her M.F.A. in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California.
At the beginning of her career, Smith appeared in a wide range of stage productions, including the role of Mistress Quickly in an Off Broadway production of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor with the Riverside Shakespeare Company, produced by Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival, set in New Orleans in post-Civil War America. For the role, Smith transformed herself into a "Cajun voodoo woman," an indication of the actress' transformational power that would manifest itself in her future work.
Smith is best known for her "documentary theatre" style in plays such as Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles,both of which featured Smith as the sole performer of multiple and diverse characters and won her the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show two years in a row. Fires in the Mirror dealt with the 1991 Crown Heights Riot. Twilight: Los Angeles dealt with the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Both of these plays were constructed using material solely from interviews. House Arrest (2000) and Let Me Down Easy (2008) continued in this style.
Let Me Down Easy, which centered on an exploration of the meaning of the word "grace," debuted at the Long Wharf Theatre in January 2008. It was also performed at the American Repertory Theater in September and October 2008. A revised version of the show had its New York City premiere Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre in October 2009 and enjoyed favorable reviews and an extension into January 2010. It was also a featured program as part of PBS's Great Performances series on January 13, 2012. She debuted her one-woman play, The Arizona Project in Phoenix, Arizona, in November 2008. The piece, which explored "women's relationships to justice and the law," was commissioned by Bruce Ferguson, director of Future Arts Research (F.A.R.), a new artist-driven research program at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
In Spring 2012, Smith was the first artist in residence at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, a program founded by the Very Rev Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, who shared Smith’s vision of “bringing together art and religion”.    Commissioned by Grace Cathedral and the Cockayne Fund, Smith wrote and performed the play, On Grace, based on interviews relating to the meaning of God’s grace.  The performances were accompanied by American cellist Joshua Roman.
Film and television
Smith has appeared in several films, including Philadelphia, The American President, Rent, and Rachel Getting Married. She had recurring roles on The West Wing (National Security Advisor Dr. Nancy McNally) and The Practice. Smith appears as hospital administrator Mrs. Akalitus in the Showtime dark comedy series Nurse Jackie, which premiered in June 2009. Early in her television career, Ms. Smith appeared on the long running soap opera All My Children in the recurring role of "Hazel the shampoo girl" at the Glamorama, run by "Opal Gardner" played by Dorothy Lyman 1981-83.
Smith teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. From 1990 to 2000 she was a professor in the drama department at Stanford University and prior to that taught at Carnegie Mellon University. She also teaches at NYU School of Law.
In 2009 Smith published her first book, Talk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics. In 2006 she released another, Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts-For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind.
As a dramatist Smith was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for Fires in the Mirror which won her a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show. She was nominated for two Tony Awards in 1994 for Twilight: one for Best Actress and another for Best Play. The play won her a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and a Theatre World Award.
Smith was one of the 1996 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the "genius grant." She also won a 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to civil rights issues as well as a 2008 Matrix Award from the New York Women in Communications, Inc. In 2009 she won a Fellow Award in Theater Arts from United States Artists.
She has received honorary degrees from Spelman College, Arcadia University, Bates College, Smith College, Skidmore College, Macalester College, Occidental College, Pratt Institute, Holy Cross College,[disambiguation needed] Haverford College, Wesleyan University, School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University, Colgate University, California State University Sacramento, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wheelock College, Williams College, and the Cooper Union.
- All My Children 1983 - Hazel
- Philadelphia 1993 - Anthea Burton
- Dave 1993 - Mrs. Travis
- Fires in the Mirror 1993 - Citizens of Crown Heights
- The American President 1995 - Robin McCall
- The Practice 2000 - District Attorney Kate Brunner
- Presidio Med 2002 TV Series - Dr. Letty Jordan
- The West Wing 2000–2006 - National Security Advisor Nancy McNally
- The Human Stain (2003) - Mrs. Silk
- Rent 2005 - Mrs. Jefferson
- The Kingdom (2007) - Deputy National Security Advisor
- Life Support (2007) - Mrs.Wallace
- Rachel Getting Married (2008) - Carol
- Nurse Jackie (2009–Present) - Gloria Akalitus
- "Anna Deavere Smith Biography (1950-)"The New York Times, April 7, 2009
- O'Haire, Patricia, "Wives of Windsor [sic] make merry in city parks", The New York Daily News, July 26, 1983. For a picture of Smith in the role of Mistress Quickly see Riverside Shakespeare Company.
- "Anna Deavere Smith Biography" FilmReference.com, accessed August 29, 2011
- Lipton, Brian Scott."Anna Deavere Smith's 'Let Me Down Easy' to Premiere at Long Wharf" TheaterMania.com, December 7, 2007
- "Press Release.American Repertory Theater presents 'Let Me Down Easy'" American Repertory Theater, August 4, 2008
- Healy, Patrick.Playwright Finds a New Stage Home in New YorkThe New York Times, April 7, 2009
- "'Let Me Down Easy Reviews" criticometer.blogspot.com, October 8, 2009
- Arboleda, Yazmany (December 23, 2009). "Let Me Down Easy". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
- Jones, Kenneth."Anna Deavere Smith's 'Arizona Projec't, About Women in Justice System, Dawns in AZ Nov. 5" Playbill.com, November 5, 2008
- Soellner, Anna."Release: Anna Deavere Smith Joins the Center for American Progress as Artist-In-Residence" AmericanProgress.org, April 27, 2009
- Harmanci, Reyhan, “Mixing Art and Religion for a Loving Reunion”, New York Times, Feb 10, 2012
- Dusenbery, Lisa “Anna Deavere Smith at Grace Cathedral”, The Rumpus, Dec 16, 2011
- Krasny, Michael, “Art and Spirituality at Grace Cathedral”, Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED, Feb 1, 2012
- “Announcing Our First Artist in Residence: Anna Deavere Smith” gracecathedral.org, Dec 13, 2011
- Arobateau, Red Jordan, ”Red and Anna Deavere Smith” Red Jordan Arobateau Blog Feb 23, 2012
- Franco, Jean “On Grace - Anna Deavere Smith”
- Starr, Michael (June 30, 2008). "Nurse Edie: First Look at Sopranos Star's Dark, New Hospital Comedy". New York Post. NYPost.com. Retrieved March 8, 2009.
- "Speaker biography" Royce Carlton Incorporated, accessed August 29, 2011
- "New York Women in Communications, Inc. Announces Presenters of the 2008 Matrix Awards" broadcastnewsroom.com (article no longer available), February 20, 2008
- "Theater Arts Fellows, 2009" United States Artists, accessed August 29, 2011
- Tran, Diep."Backstage on United Solo Theatre Festival Winners" backstage.com, November 22, 2010
- Mike Boehm (January 18, 2013). "Anna Deavere Smith wins $300,000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize". LA Times. Retrieved February 03, 2013.
- Patricia Cohen (January 17, 2013). "Anna Deavere Smith Wins Gish Prize". NY Times. Retrieved February 03, 2013.
- President Obama to Award 2012 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal Whitehouse.gov, retrieved 30 June 2013
- Anna Deavere Smith at the Internet Movie Database
- Anna Deavere Smith at the Internet Broadway Database
- Anna Deavere Smith PBS Now, 2006
- TED Talks: Anna Deavere Smith's American character at TED in 2005
- Speech by Anna Deavere Smith at Bates College Commencement 2007
- Smith Weaves Multiple Stories of Healthcare Struggles into New Solo Performance - video report by Democracy Now!