(EDWARDSVILLE, Ill.) Anna Deavere Smith—actor, playwright, professor and performance artist, as well as a regular on the long-running hit series The West Wing—comes to the Arts & Issues stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in Meridian Ballroom, on the first floor of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Morris University Center. She will speak about “Engaging the World: The Role of the Artist in Society.”
As an actor, playwright and teacher, Smith has built a respected career. According to Smith's biography materials, her work “explores the American character and our multifaceted national identity” and that her work has been acclaimed by the media, critics and audiences across the country. Newsweek calls her “the most exciting individual in American theater.”
“She is considered one of the top contemporary African-American female playwrights,” said Grant Andree, coordinator of the Arts & Issues series. “Her writings have appeared in the New York Times, O Magazine, Essence and The Drama Review. “Her unnerving ability to become one of her staggeringly unique characters without a trace of caricature, has become legendary,” Andree said. In addition to The West Wing, Smith’s television credits include The Practice and Presidio Med.
Smith's newest book, Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts-for Actors, Performers, Writers and Artists of Every Kind (Anchor, 2006), has been called by actor Martin Sheen “a practical manual for any artist as well as a powerful reminder of how we can and should live through our art.” Another of Smith’s books, Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines (Random House, 2000), is based on her observations and impressions of time she spent in Washington, DC, and on the road. Her other books include publications of her plays, while her articles and other writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and the New Yorker, to name a few.
In 1997, Smith became the Ford Foundation’s first artist-in-residence, during which time she founded and directed the Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue, a three-year experiment at Harvard. The Institute is now entering its second phase—continuing to support development of works of art that deal with social issues in a cross-disciplinary atmosphere that includes artists, scholars and audiences.
She has been awarded honorary degrees at Northwestern, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Holy Cross and Cooper Union. She is a tenured professor in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and is affiliated with the NYU School of Law. Smith also has been the Ann O’Day Maples Professor of the Arts at Stanford University, where she taught from 1990-2000. She also has taught at Carnegie Mellon and at the University of Southern California, and from 2001-04 was artist-in-residence at MTV Networks.
In film, Smith has appeared in Ivan Reitman’s Dave, Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, Robert Benton’s The Human Stain, Chris Columbus’ Rent and Rob Reiner’s The American President, in which she played the White House press secretary. In NBC’s The West Wing, Smith played National Security Advisor Nancy McNally and also appeared in a recurring role as a district attorney in ABC’s The Practice.
Tickets for Smith’s appearance are $24; students, $12, and may be purchased through the SIUE Fine Arts box office, (618) 650-2774, or through the Web site: www.siue.edu/artsandissues. For additional information about the series, call Grant Andree, (618) 650-2626. The remaining Arts & Issues event of the 07-08 season is an appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author Anna Quindlen, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24, also in Meridian and sponsored by National City Bank.