Annual Congress Keynote Speaker

Keynote Speaker

Anna Deavere Smith

Award-Winning Actress, Playwright and Social Commentator
Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to highlight issues of community, character, and diversity in America. Newsweek declared her “the most exciting individual in American theatre.”
Best known for crafting one-woman, multi-character plays about American social issues, Smith has been awarded the 2013 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts, as well as the National Humanities Medal. The MacArthur Foundation honored Smith with the “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”
Her play, "Fires in the Mirror," about the 1991 Crown Heights riot, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, took home Obie and Drama Desk Awards. Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 won Drama Desk and Obie Awards and received two Tony Award nominations.
Smith’s most recent play, "Let Me Down Easy," examines healthcare and the resilience and vulnerability of the human body. Opening in 2009, "Easy" aired on PBS’ Great Performances in 2012. Interviewing real people from all walks of life, Smith turns their words into scripts, transforming herself into an astonishing number of characters.
In addition to appearing on Showtime's Nurse Jackie, Smith’s television credits include The West Wing and All My Children. She has appeared in films, including Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, and The American President. Her latest book is Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts.
In 1997 Smith founded the Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue at Harvard, which is now known as Anna Deavere Smith (ADS) Works. ADS Works “cultivates artistic excellence that embraces the social issues of the day.”
A tenured professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Smith is also affiliated with the NYU School of Law. The winner of the 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to advancing civil rights, Smith won a Matrix Award from the New York Women In Communications, a Fellow Award in Theatre Arts for the United States Artists, and the United Solo Theatre Festival’s inaugural uAward.
The Artist-in-Residence at the Center for American Progress, Smith is writing a new play, "The Americans."