Anna Deavere Smith, Doctor of Fine Arts

It takes a pretty versatile actor to portray Gloria Akalitus on Nurse Jackie, Nancy McNally on The West Wing, and Lance Armstrong. But in your case, versatile is only the start of it. You have done no less than create a whole new genre, that of documentary theatre. In what the MacArthur Foundation, in awarding you a “genius grant,” called “a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie,” you interview ranges of people and interpret their words in virtuosic, one-woman, multi-character performance. This work has often enabled members of communities and organizations, especially those experiencing conflict, to actually hear each other for the first time. Among your more public works, Fires in the Mirror focused on the Crown Heights riot, as did Twilight on the riots in L.A. The Arizona Project examined women’s relationships to justice and the law, while Let Me Down Easy, which was about medicine and healthcare, explored the meaning of grace. “I try to embody America by embodying its words,” you have said, and of Let Me Down Easy that “in this case they are words about the deepest human experiences: mortality and nobility of character, perseverance, hope, and acceptance.”

I hereby declare you recipient of the honorary degree Doctor of Fine Arts, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.

June 3, 2012