|Anna Deavere Smith
‘Chronicler of American life’
is next Maynard Mack lecturer
Award-winning actress, playwright and author Anna Deavere Smith will discuss her work as a chronicler of American
life during a visit to Yale on Wednesday, March 5.
Her presentation, which will be in the form of a “conversation,” is
the 18th annual Maynard Mack Lecture. The event, which is free and open to
the public, will take place at 5:15 p.m. in Rm. 201, Sudler Hall in William
L. Harkness Hall, 100 Wall St.
Smith has earned accolades for creating a new form of theater — one described
as “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate
reverie” by the committee that granted her a MacArthur Award “genius” grant
Her works look at controversial events from multiple points of view. She does
hundreds of interviews while creating a play. Using verbatim excerpts of those
interviews, she has performed up to as many as 46 people in the course of an
evening. In reviewing her Broadway show “Twilight Los Angeles,” about
the 1992 Los Angeles riots, The New York Times wrote: “[She is] the ultimate
impressionist: She does people’s souls.”
“Twilight Los Angeles” received two Tony nominations, an Obie, a
Drama Desk Award, a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics and numerous
other honors. Another play, “Fires in the Mirror,” examining the
racial tension between blacks and Jews that culminated in race riots in Crown
Heights Brooklyn in 1991, received numerous awards and was a runner up for the
Pulitzer Prize. The two works are part of an ongoing series that Smith has created
called “On the Road: A Search for American Character.” Other works
in the series include “House Arrest,” which deals with the American
presidency, and “Hymn,” a collaboration with famed choreographer
and dancer Judith Jamison, created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Smith is currently developing a new play for the “On The Road” series,
called “Let Me Down Easy.” Its subject is the resilience and vulnerability
of the human body. The play was inspired by the Yale School of Medicine, where
she was visiting professor and presented a performance for medical ground rounds,
called “Rounding It Out” (2000).
Smith has performed in film and television as well as on stage. Arguably her
most recognizable role was as Nancy McNally, the national security adviser
on NBC’s “The West Wing.” She was co-star of HBO’s
2007 film “Life Support,” which starred Queen Latifah, and has
been featured in the films “The American President” and “The
Human Stain.” She was a regular on the CBS series “Presidio Med” and
had a recurring role on “The Practice.”
Smith founded and directed the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, which
was funded, in large part, by the Ford Foundation. The institute was launched
at Harvard University, where it was held for three summers, and is being re-developed
at New York University (NYU), where Smith currently serves on the faculty of
the Tisch School of the Arts as a University Professor. She is also affiliated
with NYU’s Law School. Smith previously taught at Stanford and Carnegie
Mellon universities and at the University of Southern California. At the invitation
of Oprah Winfrey, she recently served as an instructor at Winfrey’s Leadership
Academy for Girls in South Africa.
In addition to publication of her plays, Smith’s books include “Talk
to Me: Listening Between the Lines,” an account of her observations following
President Clinton and Senator Bob Dole on the 1996 campaign trail, and, most
recently, “Letters to a Young Artist.” Her articles and writings
have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The New
Yorker, O Magazine, Essence, Fortune and The Drama Review.
The Maynard Mack Lecture is sponsored by the Elizabethan Club. The lectureship
is named in honor of Maynard Mack, Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and
one of Yale’s most distinguished scholars and teachers of literature.
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