Deavere Smith opens Stamps Series, IRWG 20th anniversary


Award-winning actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith will bring her singular brand of performance to the Michigan Theater Sept.11. This lecture will launch the 2014-15 Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, and the 20th-anniversary celebration of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

Based on her recent one-woman show “Let Me Down Easy,” which explored the American health care system, this lecture/performance will combine stories of Smith’s creative journey with insights into the fragility and resilience of the human body and spirit.

Anna Deavere Smith

Smith is best known for crafting one-woman, multi-character plays about American social issues.

She has been awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts; the National Humanities Medal; and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie.”

Her film and television credits include “Philadelphia,” “The American President,” “The Human Stain,” “Rent,” ABC’s “The Practice,” NBC’s “The West Wing,” and currently Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.” She is professor of performance studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, affiliate professor at the NYU School of Law, and the founder and director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue.

IRWG Director Sarah Fenstermaker says, “Anna Deavere Smith is an artist whose work affirms women’s accomplishments, celebrates the human spirit, and is unconstrained by conventional notions of creativity. We are delighted to open IRWG’s anniversary year with her visit.”

Penny Stamps Series Director Chrisstina Hamilton says, “It is wonderful to open the season in celebration of IRWG, one of our longtime dedicated series partners, and with a performer who is truly a dynamic force of nature.”

Smith’s free lecture is at 5:10 p.m. at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St.

Following Smith’s appearance, the Stamps Speaker Series continues Sept. 18 with conceptual artists and political activists Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina, founding members of feminist guerilla punk collective Pussy Riot.

In August 2012, following an anti-Putin performance in Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the two were sentenced to two years in prison. In March 2014 they opened the Mordovia office of Zona Prava, their newly created prisoners’ rights non-governmental organization. Tolokonnikova and Alekhina are Lennon Ono Grant for Peace recipients.

The series moves forward with Stamps alumnus Rei Inamoto, among Forbes Magazine’s Top 25 Most Creative People in Advertising, on Sept. 25; multimedia modern artist Fred Tomaselli Oct. 2; entrepreneur and “startup guy” Phil Gilbert of IBM Oct. 9; and “King Corn” food documentarians Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney Oct. 16.

Established with the generous support of alumna Penny W. Stamps, the speaker series brings respected emerging and established artists and designers from a broad spectrum of media to the Stamps School of Art & Design to conduct a public lecture and engage with students, faculty, and the larger university and Ann Arbor communities.

Founded in 1995, IRWG is an interdisciplinary unit of the Office of Research. It supports U-M faculty and students in their research on women, gender and sexuality. Go to for more information.

— Kevin Brown of The University Record contributed to this report.


  1. Lawrence La Fountain
    on September 4, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Fantastic! Looking forward to these events.

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