Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith
Born (1950-09-18) September 18, 1950
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Occupation Actress, playwright, professor
Website Official website
Projects website

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 Dr. Nancy McNally in The West Wing (2000–06), and as hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie (2009–15). 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, and was named the Jefferson Lecturer for 2015.

Early life

Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland,[1] the daughter of Anna Rosalind (née Young), an elementary school principal, and Deaver Young Smith, Jr., a coffee merchant.[2][3] She has four younger siblings.[4] Smith is an alumna of the historic Western High School.[5] She then studied acting at Beaver College (now Arcadia University), graduating in 1971.[4][6] She received her M.F.A. in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California.[6]



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 The Merry Wives of Windsor with the Riverside Shakespeare Company,[7] 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.[8]

Smith is best known for her "documentary theatre" style in plays such as Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, 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, 1992 dealt with the 1992 Los Angeles riots.[9] Both of these plays were constructed using material solely from interviews.[9] House Arrest (2000) and Let Me Down Easy (2008) continued in this style.

Let Me Down Easy, which explored the resiliency and vulnerability of the human body, debuted at the Long Wharf Theatre in January 2008.[10] It was also performed at the American Repertory Theater in September and October 2008.[11] A revised version of the show had its New York City premiere Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre in October 2009[12] and enjoyed favorable reviews[13] and an extension into January 2010.[14] 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.[15]

As of July 2009, Smith is the artist-in-residence with the Center for American Progress and is developing a new show called The Americans, which documents change in Washington, D.C.[16]

In Spring 2012, Smith was the first artist-in-residence at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, a program founded by the Very Rev Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, who shared Smith's vision of "bringing together art and religion".[17][18][19] 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.[20][21] The performances were accompanied by American cellist Joshua Roman.[22]

Film and television

Smith has appeared in several films, including Philadelphia (1993), Dave (1993), The American President (1995), Rent (2005), and Rachel Getting Married (2008). She had recurring roles on The Practice (2000) and as Dr. Nancy McNally on The West Wing (2000–06). Smith also appeared as hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime dark comedy series Nurse Jackie, which premiered in June 2009.[23] Early in her television career, she appeared on the long running soap opera All My Children in the recurring role of "Hazel the shampoo girl".

In February 2014, Smith appeared as a mentor in Anna Deavere Smith: A YoungArts Masterclass, part of the HBO documentary series Masterclass.[24]


Smith teaches in the Department of Art & Public Policy 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.[25]


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.[25]


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.[26] She was nominated for two Tony Awards in 1994 for Twilight: one for Best Actress and another for Best Play.[6] The play won her a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and a Theatre World Award.[27][28]

Smith was one of the 1996 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the "genius grant."[29] She also won a 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to civil rights issues,[28] as well as a 2008 Matrix Award from the New York Women in Communications, Inc.[30] In 2009, she won a Fellow Award in Theater Arts from United States Artists.[28]

She has received honorary degrees from University of Pennsylvania, Spelman College, Arcadia University, Bates College, Smith College, Skidmore College, Macalester College, Occidental College, Pratt Institute, Holy Cross College, 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, Yale University,[31] and the Cooper Union.[27]

The United Solo Theatre Festival board awarded her with the award for outstanding solo performer during the inaugural edition in November 2010.[32]

Smith won The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2013), one of the richest prizes in the American arts with a remuneration of $300,000.[33]

In 2013, she received the 2012 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.[34] In 2015 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities, delivering a lecture entitled "On the Road: A Search for American Character".[35]



Year Title Role Notes
1982 Soup for One Deborah
1987 Unfinished Business Anna
1993 Philadelphia Anthea Burton
1993 Dave Mrs. Travis
1995 The American President Robin McCall
2000 Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Various Writer and producer; adaptation of Smith's 1994 play
2003 The Human Stain Mrs. Silk
2004 The Manchurian Candidate Political pundit
2005 Rent Mrs. Jefferson
2005 Cry_Wolf Headmaster Tinsley
2007 The Kingdom Maricella Canavesio
2007 Life Support Mrs. Wallace
2008 Rachel Getting Married Carol


Year Title Role Notes
1983 All My Children Hazel
1997 American Experience Narrator Episode: "Hawaii's Last Queen"
2000 The Practice Kate Brunner 4 episodes
2000–06 The West Wing Dr. Nancy McNally 20 episodes
2001 100 Centre Street Ms. Davis Episode: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished"
2001 Life 360 Herself Episode: "Six Degrees of Separation"
2002 Presidio Med Dr. Letty Jordan 4 episodes
2009–15 Nurse Jackie Gloria Akalitus
2013 The Surgeon General Vice President TV movie
2014 Anna Deavere Smith: A YoungArts Masterclass Herself / Mentor Documentary
2015 Black-ish Alicia
2015 Madam Secretary Attorney General Mary Campbell
2016 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Warden Lucille Fenton Episode: "Nationwide Manhunt"[36]
2016 Legends of Tomorrow Chay-Ara Episode: "The Magnificent Eight"


Year Title Role Location Notes
1974 Horatio The savage American Conservatory Theater
1976 Alma, the Ghost of Spring Street Marie Laveau La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
1980 Mother Courage and Her Children Kiowa woman / Their children New York Shakespeare Festival
1982–83 On the Road Clear Space Theatre
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
1983 The Merry Wives of Windsor Mistress Quickly Off-Broadway
1983 A Birthday Party and Aunt Julia's Shoes Ward-Nasse Gallery Original poems
1983 Tartuffe Doreen Geva Theatre Center
1984 Charlayne Hunter Gault Ward-Nasse Gallery
1984 Aye, Aye, Aye, I'm Integrated The American Place Theatre
1985 Building Bridges, Not Walls National Conference of Women and the Law
1986 On the Road, ACT American Conservatory Theater
1988 Voices of Bay Area Women Phoenix Theatre, San Francisco
American Conservatory Theater
1988 Chlorophyll Post-Moderism and the Mother Goddess: A Convers/ Ation Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre
1992 Fires in the Mirror Various The Public Theater Writer; one-woman show
1994 Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Various Cort Theatre Writer; one-woman show
1997, 1999 House Arrest Arena Stage
Mark Taper Forum
2008 The Arizona Project Various Herberger Theater Center Writer; one-woman show
2008–10 Let Me Down Easy Various Long Wharf Theatre
American Repertory Theater
Second Stage Theatre
Writer; one-woman show
2014 On Grace Various Harris Theater Writer; collaboration with Joshua Roman
2015 Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity[37] Various One-woman show
2015 Never Givin' Up[38] The Broad Stage One-woman show
2015 Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education — The California Chapter[39] Various Berkeley Repertory Theatre One-woman show
2016 Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education[40] Various American Repertory Theatre One-woman show
2016 Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education[41] Various Second Stage Theatre One-woman show



  1. Wynn Rousuck, J. (April 25, 1993). "Anna Deavere Smith brings play to public TV". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  2. "Smith, Anna Y.". The Baltimore Sun. September 19, 2003. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  3. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Finding Your Roots, Season 2: The Official Companion to the PBS Series.
  4. 1 2 "Asking Questions with Anna Deavere Smith". Arena Stage. Retrieved March 8, 2014.
  5. Wynn Rousuck, J. (February 10, 1999). "Making right from wrongs". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  6. 1 2 3 Ferington, Esther. "Anna Deavere Smith". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  7. Sterritt, David (July 21, 1983). "How many liberties can you take with the Bard?". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  8. O'Haire, Patricia (July 26, 1983). ""Wives of Windsor" make merry in city parks". Daily News. New York.
  9. 1 2 Johnson, Reed (April 25, 2012). "Anna Deavere Smith revisits 'Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  10. Lipton, Brian Scott (December 7, 2007). "Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy to Premiere at Long Wharf". Theater Mania. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  11. "American Repertory Theater presents Let Me Down Easy written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith". American Repertory Theater. August 4, 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  12. Healy, Patrick (April 7, 2009). "Playwright Finds a New Stage Home in New York". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  13. "'Let Me Down Easy Reviews", October 8, 2009.
  14. Arboleda, Yazmany (December 23, 2009). "Let Me Down Easy". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  15. Jones, Kenneth (November 5, 2008). "Anna Deavere Smith's Arizona Project, About Women in Justice System, Dawns in AZ Nov. 5". Playbill. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  16. "Anna Deavere Smith Joins the Center for American Progress as Artist-In-Residence". Center for American Progress. April 27, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  17. Harmanci, Reyhan (February 10, 2012). "Mixing Art and Religion for a Loving Reunion". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  18. Dusenbery, Lisa (December 16, 2011). "Anna Deavere Smith at Grace Cathedral". The Rumpus. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  19. Krasny, Michael, "Art and Spirituality at Grace Cathedral", Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED, February 1, 2012
  20. "Announcing Our First Artist in Residence: Anna Deavere Smith", December 13, 2011.
  21. Arobateau, Red Jordan, "Red and Anna Deavere Smith", Red Jordan Arobateau Blog, February 23, 2012.
  22. Franco, Jean "On Grace – Anna Deavere Smith"
  23. Starr, Michael (June 30, 2008). "Nurse' Edie". New York Post. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  24. Obenson, Tambay A. (February 12, 2014). "HBO Documentary 'Anna Deavere Smith: A YoungArts Masterclass' Debuts Feb. 17 (Watch Preview)". Indiewire. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  25. 1 2 "Speaker biography", Royce Carlton Incorporated, accessed August 29, 2011.
  26. Rabinowitz, Paula (April 16, 2005). "Introduction to Anna Deavere Smith, "Snapshots: Glimpses of America in Change"". University of Minnesota. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  27. 1 2 "Anna Deavere Smith". Tisch School of the Arts. New York University. Retrieved February 21, 2014.
  28. 1 2 3 Landis, Alysha (September 5, 2011). "Actor, playwright and professor Anna Deavere Smith to present keynote address Sept. 13". Goshen College. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  29. "Barbara Block, Anna Deavere Smith win MacArthur grants". Stanford University. June 17, 1996. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  30. Hetrick, Adam (December 31, 2007). "Anna Deavere Smith Among 2008 Matrix Award Recipients". Playbill. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  31. "Yale awards 12 honorary degrees at 2014 graduation". Yale University. May 19, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  32. Tran, Diep (November 22, 2010). "United Solo Festival Winners Announced". Backstage. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  33. Boehm, Mike (January 18, 2013). "Anna Deavere Smith wins $300,000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  34. "President Obama to Award 2012 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal". The White House. July 3, 2013. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  35. Schuessler, Jennifer (February 19, 2015). "Anna Deavere Smith to Deliver Jefferson Lecture". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
  36. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit". The Futon Critic. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  37. Norder, Virginia (March 16, 2015). "Deavere Smith opens IMPACT with one-woman play". The Vanderbilt Hustler. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
  38. Byrd, Craig (April 15, 2015). "Curtain Call: Anna Deavere Smith Examines Race Relations in Her New Play". Los Angeles. Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  39. Fancher, Lou (July 8, 2015). "Chatting with Anna Deavere Smith". SF Weekly. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
  40. Goodwin, Jeremy D. (August 18, 2016). "In 'Notes From the Field' at ART, Anna Deavere Smith intends to educate and engage". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  41. Goodwin, Jeremy D. (August 18, 2016). "In 'Notes From the Field' at ART, Anna Deavere Smith intends to educate and engage". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 6, 2016.

External links

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