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Anna Deavere Smith (born September 18, 1950) is a Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-nominated American actress, playwright, and professor. She is currently the artist in residence at the Center for American Progress.

Early life

Smith was born in Baltimore, Marylandmarker, 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 Universitymarker), graduating in 1971. She received her M.F.A. in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatermarker in San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker.



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 and other pieces of the archive. House Arrest in 2000 and Let Me Down Easy in 2008 continued in this style.

Let Me Down Easy, which centered around an exploration of the meaning of the word "grace," debuted at the Long Wharf Theatremarker in January 2008. It was also performed at the American Repertory Theatermarker that fall. A revised version of the show had its New York City premiere at Second Stage Theatre in October 2009 and enjoyed rave reviews and an extension into January 2010. She debuted her latest one-woman play, The Arizona Project in Phoenix, Arizonamarker, 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 Universitymarker in Phoenix.

As of July 2009 Smith is the artist in residence with Center for American Progress and is developing a new show called The Americans documenting change in Washington, DCmarker.

Earlier in her career, Smith had 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 Orleansmarker in post-Civil War Americamarker. For the role, Smith transformed herself into a "Cajun voodoo woman" - an indication of the actress's transformational power that would manifest itself in her future work.

Film and television

Smith has appeared in several films, including Philadelphia, The American President, 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.


Smith teaches in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York Universitymarker. From 1990 to 2000 she was a professor in the drama department at Stanford Universitymarker. She also teaches at NYU School of Lawmarker.


In 2000 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.

She has received honorary degrees from Arcadia Universitymarker, Bates Collegemarker, Bryn Mawr Collegemarker, Smith Collegemarker, Skidmore Collegemarker, Macalester Collegemarker, Occidental Collegemarker, Pratt Institutemarker, Holy Cross College, Haverford Collegemarker, Wesleyan Universitymarker, School of Visual Arts, Northwestern Universitymarker, Colgate Universitymarker, California State University Sacramentomarker, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillmarker, Wheelock Collegemarker, and the Cooper Unionmarker.



  1. Anna Deaver Smith jr Biography (1950-)
  8. "Wives of Windsor [sic] make merry in city parks," by Patricia O'Haire, The New York Daily News, July 26, 1983. For a picture of Smith in the role of Mistress Quickly see Riverside Shakespeare Company.

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