St. Olaf to award honorary degree to ‘West Wing’ actress, playwright Anna Deavere Smith
St. Olaf College will award an honorary degree to actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, best known for her roles on The West Wing and Nurse Jackie, on Thursday, April 4.
The Honorary Degree Convocation, which is open to the public, will begin at 11 a.m. in Boe Memorial Chapel. It will be streamed and archived online.
The day before the honorary degree ceremony, Smith will hold two events on campus. On Wednesday, April 3, she will hold a workshop for students titled “The Art of Listening” in the afternoon.
That evening, she will hold a 50-minute presentation/performance in Boe Chapel titled “Engaging the World: The Role of the Artist in Society.” The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m.
Smith’s most famous roles include National Security Advisor Dr. Nancy McNally in The West Wing and as hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie. She’s also had roles in films including The American President, Philadelphia, and Rachel Getting Married. She has appeared as Rainbow’s mother Alicia on ABC’s hit series Black-ish, and she stars in the new ABC legal drama For the People.
Smith is the founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, launched at Harvard University. She teaches in the Department of Art & Public Policy at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She was also a drama professor at Stanford University and prior to that taught at Carnegie Mellon University. She currently teaches at the New York University School of Law and has served as an artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, MTV Networks, the Ford Foundation, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
The MacArthur Foundation awarded Smith a “genius grant” for creating a “new form of theater — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.” She also received The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life,” and in 2012 President Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal. Smith was also named the 2012 Jefferson Lecturer, the nation’s highest honor in the humanities.
Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77Anna Deavere Smith is a playwright, actor, and educator who explores issues of community, character, and diversity through the creation of artistic performances. Her work embodies the academic, literary, artistic, and humanitarian mission of St. Olaf College in deep and meaningful ways.
“Anna Deavere Smith is a playwright, actor, and educator who explores issues of community, character, and diversity through the creation of artistic performances,” Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77 wrote in a letter nominating Smith for an honorary degree. “Her work embodies the academic, literary, artistic, and humanitarian mission of St. Olaf College in deep and meaningful ways.”
Smith is the author of two books: Talk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics and Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts — For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind.
St. Olaf College is the second Minnesota college to award an honorary degree to Smith, who holds a BA from Arcadia University and an MFA from the American Conservatory Theater.