Anna Deavere Smith

University Professor

Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher, and author. She is credited with having created a new form of theater. Smith's work combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance.

Smith has created over fifteen one-person shows based on hundreds of interviews. Her play This Ghost of Slavery was recently featured in the Atlantic Magazine, making it one of only two plays published during the magazine’s 166 year history. Other plays authored by Smith include Notes from the Field about the school to prison pipeline, Let Me Down Easy, about health care; House Arrest, about the U.S. presidency and the press; and Twilight: Los Angeles, about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Twilight was recently named one of the best plays of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times. In 2018, HBO premiered the film version of Notes from the Field. PBS has broadcast, Fires in the Mirror, Twilight and Let Me Down Easy.

President Obama awarded Smith the National Humanities Medal in 2013. She has been selected to give the 2024 Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery in Washington.  She was selected in 2015 to give the Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities, at the John F. Kennedy Center. Additional honors include the 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 Medical School, Obie Awards, and two Tony nominations. She was runner up for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Smith is also an actress in popular culture, having been a part of such shows as Netflix’s Inventing Anna, ABC’s For the People and Black-ish. Previously, she appeared in Nurse Jackie and The West Wing. Films include The American President, Philadelphia, Ghosted and Rachel Getting Married.

She has several honorary degrees including those from Oxford, Harvard, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Spelman, Dartmouth, Prairie View University and Bard College. 

In 2023, she was Eastman Professor at Oxford University – Balliol College. She is a University Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  She serves on Biden’s President’s Committee for Arts and Humanities.