Anna Deavere Smith is an actor, a teacher, a playwright, and the creator of an acclaimed series of one-woman plays based on her interviews with diverse voices from communities in crisis. She has won two Obie Awards, two Tony nominations for her play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play Fires in the Mirror. She has had roles in the films Philadelphia, An American President, The Human Stain, and Rent, and she has worked in television on The Practice, Presidio Med, and The West Wing. The founder and director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, she teaches at New York University and lives in New York City.
Question: What should we be doing that we’re not?
Anna Deavere Smith: Well I think the collaborations across the boundaries of class and race are really important. I think to keep learning language is essential. I think learning how to work with other people so that you can do bigger projects that are going to require more than the single author.
I think that people should be rewarded and given support – I mean tangibly. People should make grants to people who want to do projects that require collaboration across race, class and national lines.
I think if people start to see that the word “we” is more important than “I”, and if hard dollars start to support those kind of projects, then more people will work that way and come outside of what I call their safe houses of identity where everybody is just like them.
Question: How do we make that happen?
Anna Deavere Smith: Well in real practical terms, my high school was a place where, we did in the time that I grew up, collaborate across our boundaries. I think universities that talk about interdisciplinary behavior don’t help that happen. Now a university is like a kind of a “faithdom” of all different kinds of people together – scientists, artists, historians, philosophers, and people who want to turn their people into billionaires. We’re all in the same community. But to get things going across those schools is very hard.
Question: How do we make it global?
Anna Deavere Smith: I see a lot of global initiatives in business. They figured that out for sure. So let’s try to figure it out in the culture. Let’s go to the businessmen and ask them to teach us how they did that. Ask them to help us meet some people elsewhere. Ask them to fund collaborations, even cultural collaborations just using where their businesses are based in the world.
Recorded on: 08/22/2007