Kicking off Homecoming Weekend, the annual Arts & Humanities Speaker Series featured Anna Deavere Smith, famed playwright, actress, and educator. The evening was made possible through the generosity of Carlton ’63 and Lucille Sedgeley.
Smith is most recognizable as the National Security Advisor on NBC’s The West Wing and hospital administrator on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. Smith also appeared on the ABC hit series Black-ish and legal drama For the People. As part of her lectures, Smith takes a unique approach and transforms herself on stage into an astonishing number of characters, discussing the “complex identities of America.”
“The event was a huge success, and Anna Deavere Smith was a gracious, lovely, engaged guest,” said Springfield College School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rachel Rubinstein. “We had more than 600 individuals at the lecture and the talk made connections between her own history, the legacies of slavery particularly as it was organized around owning children’s bodies and rights, and up to the present day in the school to prison pipeline, or as she termed it, the ‘out of school’ to prison pipeline. The lecture was perfect for an audience that included students, faculty and staff, and community members.”
Having someone as accomplished as Smith on the Springfield College campus allowed the campus community and the local external community, an opportunity to learn why Smith was honored by the MacArthur Foundation with the “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre – a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”
In addition to her live performance, Smith provided a memorable moment for a small group of Springfield College students, who had the pleasure of meeting with Smith prior to the lecture. Students from the department of visual and performing arts, the honors program, and student-led clubs on campus focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, were able to engage with Smith in a question and answer session.
“Having Anna Deavere Smith on campus was a privilege,” said Springfield College Class of 2023 student Paris Lizana. “Getting to learn about her process of combining activism and art was inspiring and encouraged me not to limit myself to pursuing only one passion. She created a genre for herself where one did not previously exist in order to use her voice and talents to address the most prevalent social issues of our time.”
Smith is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the National Humanities Medal, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize as a Guggenheim Fellow, the Ridenhour Courage Prize, the George Polk Career Award and her playwriting has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Awards.
“She talked about Springfield in particular, describing our mission and really speaking to students and the question of belonging — that has stayed with the students, judging from the responses they have shared,” added Rubinstein.
After her talk, Smith stayed for over an hour, signing books and talking with people, really taking time to engage. “She was amazing, and it’s was just a great night for Springfield College and our community,” concluded Rubinstein.