Anna Deavere Smith On What It Takes To Bring About Change
NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with actress and writer Anna Deavere Smith about her essay, The Last of the Nice Negro Girls, which is part of The Atlantic’s Inheritance project. Check it out here.
And check out a deeper discussion on The Last of the Nice Negro Girls, forging Black identity, and empowering our defiance with The Inheritance Project presented by The Atlantic.
THE ATLANTIC: We Were the Last of the Nice Negro Girls
In 1968, history found us at a small women’s college, forging our Black identity and empowering our defiance.
My high-school counselor at Western High School, an all-girls public school in Baltimore, was a rotund white woman with a pleasant but less than energetic countenance. She was wholly absent from my education until one day, after rumblings about affirmative action in colleges had begun shaking the ground that Negroes traversed to higher education, she suddenly summoned my mother and me for a meeting. My mother, a veteran teacher in Baltimore’s public schools, took the afternoon off. We sat in the high-ceilinged counseling office, prim and proper as can be, while the counselor showed us one pamphlet after another with images of white girls in sweater sets relaxing in bucolic environments.
January 29, 2021: The challenges of distributing the Covid-19 vaccine equitably, Black identity in the White House and beyond, and our weekly roundtable unpacks the first set of Biden-Harris executive orders.
Actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith analyzes the image of Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House. Author Kenya Hunt reflects on Black female identity around the world in her book, Girl Gurl Grrrl: On Womanhood and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magic. Plus, political journalist Errin Haines of The 19th and Jess Morales-Rocketto of the National Domestic Workers Alliance get into the swift actions of the Biden-Harris administration, the white supremacy problem within law enforcement, and the future of the Republican party.
Presented within TIME magazine’s year-end issue, Anna Deavere Smith’s essay on Kamala Harris.
When Kamala Harris becomes the Vice President of the United States in January, she will be, as has been frequently noted, a first—the first woman, the first Black person and the first Indian-American person to hold this office. But while it is worth celebrating that the top leadership of the U.S. will better mirror its people, it is important to remember that simply naming these identities does not tell us all we need to know. It’s within the particulars of her lived experience as a Black and Indian-American woman that we can truly understand who she is today and what she brings with her to the White House. To continue reading please click the link below:
On May 13, 2020, Anna Deavere Smith joined Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital President Arthur Gianelli for a conversation hosted by Signature Theatre, as part of their online SigSpace Summit. Watch the video of their dialogue about Covid-19, public health, and the future of live arts.
Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field
Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field will be available in print on May 21st, 2019.
In creating this, her latest play, Smith interviewed over two hundred and fifty people in the United States and abroad. Twenty of those individuals are rendered in the final published script; individuals who have lived and fought the system that pushes students of color out of the classroom and into prisons. (As Smith has put it: “Rich kids get mischief, poor kids get pathologized and incarcerated.”) Using people’s own words, culled from interviews and speeches, Smith introduces us to Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, who eulogized Freddie Gray; Niya Kenny, a high school student who confronted a violent police deputy; activist Bree Newsome, who took the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina State House grounds; and many others. Their voices bear powerful witness to a great iniquity of our time—and call us to action with their accounts of resistance and hope.
Notes from the Field is available for pre-order now at Penguin Random House. It will also be available as an e-book and an audiobook.
Anna Deavere Smith interviews Esperanza Spalding at the Strand in NYC
Anna Deavere Smith interviews Esperanza Spalding about her record 12 Little Spells. This conversation was recorded before a live audience at The Strand bookstore in New York City on May 17, 2019.
Anna Deavere Smith named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently announced the election of its new members for 2019; recognizing the outstanding achievements of individuals in academia, the arts, business, government, and public affairs. Anna Deavere Smith is deeply honored to be included in this year’s class.
Anna Deavere Smith writes about Jeanne Gang for TIME
Anna Deavere Smith and The American Scene at the National Museum of American History
The Smithsonian has captured the insights of these 33 influential leaders in the entertainment industry. The project is leading up to a 20 year exhibition at the Museum that will take a moving and provocative look at the history of theater, movies, sports, and broadcast media — and how both performers and audiences express what it means to be American.
Senator John McCain recounts how he and his fellow prisoners of war tapped poems between their cells for comfort and distraction during their years of captivity in Vietnam. Learn about his relationship to poetry as Poetry in America interprets Gwendolyn Brooks’ “To Prisoners” with Anna Deavere Smith, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Li-Young Lee, and Innocence Project exonerees. Watch at poetryinamerica.org.
Anna Deavere Smith takes part in XQ America’s Super School Live event
On September 8th, 2017, Anna Deavere Smith joins Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Mahershala Ali, Common, and many other artists participating in “EIF Presents: XQ Super School Live,” a special one-hour telecast which will invite the public to help rethink the future of American high
They all-star telecast will air live from Los Angeles on all four major U.S. networks – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC – on Friday, Sept. 8 at 8:00-9:00 PM ET.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH’S COMMENCEMENT SPEECH AT LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY
May 6, 2017
Click below to read Anna Deavere Smith’s full speech at Loyola Marymount University’s Commencement on May 6, 2017.
VANITY FAIR – The Women Playwrights Giving Broadway a Moral Compass
April 21, 2017
“I wanted to write a new play,” explains the playwright at the center of Paula Vogel’s Indecent, “that posed contemporary moral questions, that forced us to face some uncomfortable truths.” Vogel’s inventive portrayal of a 20th-century Yiddish theater troupe struggling with controversial material does just that, as do Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, for which Nottage received the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
Smith, who famously crafted a new genre out of the one-woman show, seeks to personalize the headlines by making us reflect on our propensity to pathologize. In Notes from the Field, she becomes a young black man from Baltimore who dismantles a police car; the girl who took video footage of her classmate being tossed out of her chair by a security officer in South Carolina; Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund; and so many more.
LENNY LETTER – Anna Deavere Smith Is Bringing Black Lives Matter to the Stage
By Olivia Clement
April 14, 2017
Last November, I returned to the same theater to see Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From the Field. Based on hundreds of interviews, Anna’s powerful monologue play depicts the personal accounts of students, parents, prisoners, teachers, and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline. The show shines a crucial light on the inequities of poverty, lack of opportunity, and over-aggressive policing that leads youth into the prison system. Like a lot of her work, the play is life-changing and necessary.
Anna is someone who makes me want to be smarter. She’s written and performed almost 20 acclaimed one-person shows based on interviews, and her work is always urgent and inspiring. Even President Obama recognizes her transcendence — he presented her with the National Humanities Medal in 2013. We talked on the phone for half an hour about mass incarceration — but given the state of the world, we had a few other things to also mull over.
LOS ANGELES TIMES – Favorite memories from 50 years of Center Theatre Group
By Lisa Fung
April 13, 2017
Fifty years ago, Los Angeles welcomed the Ahmanson Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum with a weeklong celebration marking the newest addition to the city’s cultural center. Without a doubt, the Ahmanson and Taper have introduced, nurtured and hosted some of the finest actors and actresses, directors and playwrights in the world. We reached out to a few of them by phone and email, asking them to share their favorite memories, which have been condensed and edited for space.
Anna Deavere Smith, writer, actress and director
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” (1992-93), “House Arrest: An Introgression” (1998-99)
While I was writing “Twilight Los Angeles 1992,” my play about the L.A. riots, the Taper hired a variety of consultants, each representing a different ethnic group and perspective about the riot. Their jobs entailed introducing me to folks all over L.A.
After performing each preview, I went home and revised the play. Before doing so, I met with the consultants and the creative team. The city was still on edge, and so were these “dramaturges,” as we called them. We should have sold tickets to those discussions. All over town people were anxious that there might be another riot, depending on the outcome of the second trial — the federal trial of the four police officers who beat Rodney King.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH’S REMARKS UPON ACCEPTING THE GEORGE POLK AWARD
April 7, 2017
Thank you, John Darnton. Thank you, Charlayne. There are many people I could thank – theaters, philanthropists, other artists – regrettably they are not here. I will thank Stephanie Schneider from the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at NYU, who helped us wrangle audiences of 500 people into small groups, so we could have discussions during my last play – a form of civic engagement. And thank you to Allyson Green, Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts, because I am given enough flexibility to do my work, but to still be in the rich intellectual community of my colleagues and students.
THE BOSTON GLOBE – WHAT’S THE ROLE OF THEATER IN THIS TIME OF TRUMP?
By Don Aucoin
March 24, 2017
For the hosts and writers of late-night TV comedy shows as well as the anchors and producers of hyperkinetic cable-news programs, President Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.
But what about theater? What is the role of playwrights when confronted with an unprecedented figure like Trump and the overheated political environment he has generated?
“Right now, satire and comedy are having a ball, but there are people who are going to suffer,’’ playwright-performer Anna Deavere Smith said in a telephone interview. “No matter how many things are done on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ no matter how many op-ed pieces are written, not many of us feel that we understand this. A play has a chance to bring more sense to us, and to help us in a deeper way.’’
Smith said that theater can play a vital role in the present-tense conversation about Trump, but she maintained that there is also “some value to hindsight,’’ adding that dramas fully explaining this political-cultural moment “could be 10 years out, 20 years out.’’
The Flo Kennedy Show (1992) – Anna Deavere Smith talks ‘Fires in the Mirror’
June 4, 1992
Anna Deavere Smith appears on The Flo Kennedy Show to discuss her play Fires in the Mirror.
Students Honor MLK’s Legacy at Alabama Lynching Sites
College Track students traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to learn from Bryan Stevenson and Equal Justice Initiative about our history of racial violence, and how we can all bring new resolve to honoring the truth.
The Atlantic – Anna Deavere Smith Shares ‘Notes From the Field’
By Alia Wong
That’s what makes Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From the Field, a production about “a justice system that pushes minors from poor communities out of the classroom and into incarceration,” so striking. As a journalist who’s written, read, and edited countless stories about the school-to-prison pipeline, I entered the theater anticipating an intensely artistic experience but not necessarily a dramatically educational one. Largely because of its language—the words uttered or not uttered, the movements made or suppressed, the way they those expressions were expressed—it turned out to be an intoxicating combination of both.
I recently spoke with Smith about her experience researching for and performing the play, which recently ended its off-Broadway stint at Second Stage Theatre. A lightly edited and condensed version of our interview follows.
TMC NEWS – Anna Deavere Smith Addresses Complexities of Life, Death in Houston Performance
By Shanley Chien
January 18, 2017
The Baylor College of Medicine Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy hosted Tuesday evening its annual community outreach event to present an abbreviated version of “Let Me Down Easy,” a play performed and written by actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith that explores the vulnerability of the body and the resilience of the human spirit.
In a series of real-life character portrayals, Smith reenacted nine vignettes of people’s experiences with health care in very personal terms, using their words, expressions, mannerisms, sputters and pauses exactly as they were delivered in her interviews with various doctors, administrators and patients.
The Leonard Lopate Show – Anna Deavere Smith Takes on the School-to-Prison Pipeline in ‘Notes From the Field’
Actress, playwright and professor Anna Deavere Smith discusses her first-person storytelling show, “Notes From the Field.” It depicts the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline, as they experience inequality, lack of opportunity and over-aggressive policing in their own communities.
The New Yorker – ANNA DEAVERE SMITH CONTAINS MULTITUDES
By Rachel Syme
Smith is known for the range of characters she plays onstage and on television, in roles like the national-security adviser Nancy McNally, on “The West Wing,” and Gloria Akalitus, on “Nurse Jackie.” Still, she said, she does not “do” other people, nor is she an impersonator. In discussing some of the characters she plays in her latest production—Niya Kenny, a teen-age girl (fidgety feet, a nervous biting of her cheek) who stood up to a police officer after he violently handcuffed her for refusing her teacher’s order to put away her cell phone; a female prison inmate whose only object of affection is the dog she trains (slumped over, speaking almost in a whisper)—Smith also objected to the idea that she “gives voice” to people who might not otherwise be heard. “If anything, they give me a voice,” she said, when we were downstairs in the airy museum café. “Anybody can speak for themselves, and they always could.”
New York Times – This Time, Anna Deavere Smith Cuts Close to Home
By Kate Taylor
Anna Deavere Smith is coming home.
The protean actress and playwright has spent her career interviewing and then embodying people of different races and divergent points of view — “chasing that which is not me,” as she put it in a recent interview. But her new play, “Notes From the Field,” a prolonged meditation on education and criminal justice, is different.
TIME – Anna Deavere Smith on Race, Education and Criminal Justice
By Eliza Berman
October 27, 2016
‘I’ve been interested in people who see the dignity in struggle’
“How did coming from a family of educators shape your perspective on education?”
I grew up in Baltimore, a town that was just coming out of segregated schools. Education was about progress and community and love. My mother taught really poor kids. Even though we were all, at the time, Negroes, there was a clarity for me about my situation and the situation of the children she taught.
“In “Notes From the Field”, you tackle the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, through which many poor kids end up in the criminal-justice system instead of in school.”
BWW TV – Anna Deavere Smith Explains What NOTES FROM THE FIELD Is All About
TDF Stages Directing One Person (Playing 19 People)
By Jeff Potter
October 24, 2016
Inside Anna Deavere Smith’s latest solo show.
Leonard Foglia has directed theatrical events of all scales, including an epic production of the opera Moby Dick that included a sprawling ensemble and eye-popping sets and projections. Yet the versatile director/librettist/novelist contends that the antithesis of such a production – the solo show – can be equally challenging.
“You don’t have a scene where, all of a sudden, ‘Oh! The young people run on stage now to change the rhythm,'” he laughs. “One person has to change it.”
Foglia proved his acumen for shaping solo pieces with Thurgood, which featured Laurence Fishburne as Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and bowed on Broadway in 2008. Now he’s returning to the form as the director of Notes From the Field, the latest solo showcase for writer-performer Anna Deavere Smith. (The play is currently in previews at Second Stage.)
Anna Deavere Smith introduces Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education
July 22, 2016
Anna Deavere Smith presents her speech Ringside: Get Real as part of the Opening Plenary at the 2016 TCG National Conference: Theatre Nation presented by the Theatre Communications Group on June 23, 2016. Video coverage is presented by the global, commons-based peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv. ASL interpretations are presented by Miako Rankin.
NEWSDAY – Anna Deavere Smith solos again with another ‘tough topic’
October 17, 2016
By Linda Winer
She hadn’t intended to be back here and doing this, at least not now.
Anna Deavere Smith — who arguably invented or changed forever the concept of first-person, multicharacter theater — did not set out to be in previews of her solo show about the school-to-prison pipeline called “Notes From the Field.” It took her five years — and some painful cultural shifts — to change her mind.
Join us for an intimate conversation with Tony-Award winning actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith.
She’ll sit down with author and producer Susan Fales-Hill for an exploration of the creative process and what happens when theater and activism intersect.
They will discuss her signature form of documentary theater and her ground-breaking stage career — from her powerful one-woman piece “Twilight: Los Angeles,” to her newest work, “Pipeline Project,” an examination of the systemic cycle of school suspension to incarceration that is prevalent in low-income, minority communities.
PBS NEWSHOUR – Anna Deavere Smith tackles school-to-prison pipeline on stage
September 29, 2015
For Anna Deavere Smith, actress and path-breaking performance artist, Baltimore is home. After the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, the city became a sadly appropriate setting for Smith to tackle her latest project: a one-woman show about the “school to prison pipeline,” which funnels children who get into trouble at school into the criminal justice system. Jeffrey Brown reports.
Anna Deavere Smith named to Essence Magazine’s #WOKE100
April 17, 2017
ESSENCE magazine has chosen Anna Deavere Smith as one of 100 women on their inaugural #WOKE100 list, which honors Black women activists, artists, politicians, educators, organizers, journalists and creators who are working to achieve equality for people of color.
‘NOTES FROM THE FIELD’ AT A.R.T. NOMINATED FOR 2 ELLIOT NORTON AWARDS
April 11, 2017
The American Repertory Theatre production of Notes From the Field received two Eliot Norton Award nominations, which celebrate the best theater in the Boston Area. The play received nominations for Outstanding New Script and Outstanding Solo Performance. Winners will be revealed at the 35th Annual Elliot Norton Awards on Monday, May 15, 2017 at 7 PM.
‘NOTES FROM THE FIELD’ NOMINATED FOR 2 LUCILLE LORTEL AWARDS
April 4, 2017
Anna Deavere Smith’s newest play, Notes From the Field, was nominated for Outstanding Solo Show at the Lucille Lortel Awards. The play also received a nomination for its projection design. Winners will be announced when the Lucille Lortel Awards are handed out in a May 7 ceremony at New York University’s Skirball Center.
ANNA DEAVERE SMITH NAMED 2017 HONORARY DEGREE RECIPIENT AT DARTMOUTH COLLEGE
April 4, 2017
Dartmouth will recognize nine accomplished men and women with honorary degrees at the College’s 2017 Commencement on Sunday, June 11, on the Green, including Anna Deavere Smith. President Phil Hanlon ’77 will deliver the valedictory address to graduates. Dartmouth typically awards about 1,000 bachelor’s degrees and 600 master’s and doctoral degrees in the arts and sciences and from the College’s three professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business.The academic procession to the Green will begin at 9 a.m., and visitors are advised to be in their seats by 8:45 a.m. Commencement ceremonies will begin at 9:30 a.m.
This morning, Long Island University (LIU) has announced the winners of the 68th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism, continuing the University’s longstanding tradition of honoring and celebrating the impact of courageous and authentic journalism on our national and global discourse.
Anna Deavere Smith, the educator, playwright and actress who has brought journalism to the stage in acclaimed interview-based dramatic depictions exploring urban conflict in Brooklyn and Los Angeles and, most recently, connecting incarceration of minority youth to lack of educational access and economic opportunity, will be the 35th recipient of the George Polk Career Award.
The George Polk Awards are conferred annually to honor special achievement in journalism. The awards place a premium on investigative and enterprising reporting that gains attention and achieves results. They were established in 1949 by Long Island University to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.
Anna Deavere Smith Named 2017 Honorary Degree Recipient at Swarthmore College
February 2, 2017
[Swarthmore College] President Valerie Smith will award honorary degrees to film producer and journalist David Gelber ’63, philanthropist John Goldman ’71, and actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith at the 145th commencement on May 21, 2017. In addition, approximately 350 undergraduates will receive degrees at the ceremony in Scott Amphitheater.