Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, playwright, teacher and author. On television, she appears as Rainbow's mother Alicia on the ABC comedy black-ish, and can be seen in the Shondaland drama For The People, which debuts on ABC in 2018.
Smith is probably most recognizable in popular culture as Gloria Akalitus on Showtime's Nurse Jackie, or as the National Security Advisor on NBC's The West Wing. She has also appeared in numerous films, including The American President, Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, Dave, Rent and The Human Stain.
In 2012, President Obama awarded her the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal. She was also the recipient of the prestigious 2013 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for achievement in the arts, and in 2015 was named the Jefferson Lecturer, the nation's highest honor in the humanities. Among other honors, Smith is the recipient of the 2017 Ridenhour Courage Prize as well as the 2017 recipient of the George Polk Career Award in journalism.
When granted the prestigious MacArthur Award in 1996, Smith's work was described as "a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie."
Looking at current events from multiple points of view, Smith's theater combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance. These plays are part of a series that she began in the early 1980s called On the Road: A Search for American Character. Among the plays in the series — all of which address social issues — are Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles, House Arrest and Let Me Down Easy. Twilight: Los Angeles was nominated for two Tony Awards and Fires in the Mirror was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize.
Her current play, Notes from the Field, looks at issues of education, inequality and incarceration. The New York Times named it among the best theater of 2016 and Time magazine named it as one of the top 10 plays of the year. It has been filmed by HBO and will premiere in spring 2018.
Smith is the founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, which was launched at Harvard University and is now housed at New York University, where she is a professor at Tisch School of the Arts.
She has been artist in residence at a wide variety of places, ranging from MTV Networks to the Ford Foundation to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. She also has several honorary degrees and medals of recognition, among them from Juilliard, Barnard, Smith, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, the University of Pennsylvania, Cooper Union, Radcliffe College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Smith serves on the boards of the Museum of Modern Art, the Aspen Institute, the Yale School of Drama, the American Museum of Natural History and the Playwrights Realm.