Anna Deavere Smith 2013 Recipient

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Actress, Author and Educator Anna Deavere Smith to Receive the 19th Annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Award Ceremony Will Take Place February 13, 2013 in New York City

New York, NY [January 23, 2013] — The Gish Prize Trust today announced that playwright, actress, author and educator Anna Deavere Smith has been selected to receive the 19th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, given annually as a legacy from the legendary film and stage actresses. Established in 1994, it is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious awards in the arts and is also one of the largest, currently bearing a cash value of approximately $300,000. Throughout the years, the Prize’s mission has helped to support artists who have pushed the boundaries of their art forms and contributed to social change, therefore paving the way for future generations of artistic innovators.

Recipients of the Gish Prize are nominated by members of the arts community and selected by a distinguished committee of arts professionals. Under guidelines set forth in the will of Lillian Gish, the prize is awarded “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.” In honoring Anna Deavere Smith, the selection committee chose her from a group of 30 esteemed finalists from the fields of dance, visual art, music, theater, film, writing, architecture, and interdisciplinary arts.

Anna Deavere Smith stated, “The Gish Prize provides credibility and recognition for artists who invented a new path for themselves and their work. The Gish sisters leave an enduring lesson for all artists that forging their own a path is worth the effort. I am deeply honored and can’t imagine a greater honor than having my name linked with the incomparable Dorothy and Lillian Gish.”

The selection committee for the Gish Prize was committee chair Vishakha Desai, Senior Advisor for Global Programs at the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation and President Emerita of the Asia Society; Garth Fagan, choreographer; George Negroponte, visual artist; Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of the Park Avenue Armory; and Darren Walker, Vice President of Education, Creativity and Free Expression for the Ford Foundation.

Vishakha Desai stated, “The Gish Prize stands apart from others in the field because of the deliberately broad scope of its mandate. Open to all disciplines, it seeks to draw the public’s attention not only to specific artistic contributions but to the vital role in our world of creativity itself. This is not a grantmaker’s approach, but the expression of a great artist establishing a legacy for artists to come. In Anna Deavere Smith, we have a recipient who is fully worthy of that trust.”

According to Darren Walker, “As a writer and performer who has created what is in some ways a new art form, Anna Deavere Smith exemplifies the trailblazing courage of the Gish sisters themselves, who did so much to make the early cinema a great artistic medium. As an artist and educator who uses her work to address today’s major social issues, Anna also fulfills Lillian Gish’s desire for the prize to recognize someone who has ‘served as a model to others.’ Anna opens our eyes, ears and minds to some of the most challenging aspects of our lives, and in so doing helps give others the courage to do the same.”
“The Gish Prize acknowledges and celebrates artistic breakthroughs and supports the indomitable spirit of trailblazers like Anna Deavere Smith,” says Jacqueline E. Elias, Senior Philanthropy Advisor at The Philanthropy Centre at JPMorgan Private Bank.” This tremendous gift inspires us year after year and we are honored to maintain the legacy and spirit of the pioneering Gish sisters.” JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves as trustee of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust.

The 19th annual Gish Prize will be presented to Anna Deavere Smith on the evening of Wednesday, February 13, 2013 in New York City at a private event hosted by JP Morgan and attended by leaders of the arts community. The ceremony will include remarks by Glenn D. Lowry, Director of The Museum of Modern Art; a special performance by Ethan Philbrick, a student of Anna Deavere Smith and Assistant Curator at Anna Deavere Smith Works; and a performance by choreographer Elizabeth Streb.

About Anna Deavere Smith

Playwright, actress, author and educator Anna Deavere Smith first achieved acclaim with her one-woman theater works Fires in the Mirror (on the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York) and Twilight: Los Angeles (on the violence surrounding the 1992 Rodney King case). On the basis of extensive interviews and research, Ms. Smith transformed herself on stage into an entire community of witnesses and commentators, creating an almost unprecedented “blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie” in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, which presented her in 1996 with one of its “genius grant” fellowships. Ms. Smith considers these and her other one-woman shows, which began in the 1980s, to be a series, titled On the Road: A Search for American Character. Her most recent such exploration was Let Me Down Easy (2008-2012), on the subject of health care.

Ms. Smith is most recognizable in popular culture as Gloria Akalitus on the Showtime television series Nurse Jackie and as Nancy McNally on NBC’s The West Wing. She has been featured in several films, among them The American President, The Human Stain, Life Support and Rachel Getting Married. Film versions of Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles and Let Me Down Easy have been broadcast on PBS.

Ms. Smith’s writings include the books Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines and Letters to a Young Artist, as well as articles for the The New York Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker, O Magazine, Elle, Essence and The Drama Review, among other publications.

Ms. Smith is a University Professor at New York University’s Performance Studies Department and has been an artist in residence with The Ford Foundation, MTV Networks, The Aspen Institute, and San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, among other institutions. She is the founder of Anna Deavere Smith Works, Inc., to bring together artists, thinkers and activists across disciplines with the goal of cultivating artistic excellence that embraces contemporary social issues.

Ms. Smith has received two Tony Award nominations, an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle and numerous honorary degrees.

About The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Established in 1994 through the will of Lillian Gish, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to an individual who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Past recipients, from 1994 through 2011, are Frank Gehry, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Wilson, Bob Dylan, Isabel Allende, Arthur Miller, Merce Cunningham, Jennifer Tipton, Lloyd Richards, Bill T. Jones, Ornette Coleman, Peter Sellars, Shirin Neshat, Laurie Anderson, Robert Redford, Pete Seeger, Chinua Achebe and Trisha Brown. Prize recipients are nominated by the arts community and chosen by a distinguished committee of arts leaders for their groundbreaking work in their chosen fields. The Gish Prize committee, a group that changes every year, has included playwright David Henry Hwang, filmmaker Mira Nair, sculptor Martin Puryear, composer Alvin Singleton and President Emerita of The Museum of Modern Art Agnes Gund. For further information, the public is invited to visit

About Dorothy and Lillian Gish

Dorothy and Lillian Gish followed their mother onto the stage at an early age. The older of the two sisters, Lillian took her first theatrical curtain call in 1902 at the age of eight in the play In Convict’s Stripes. In 1912, the sisters’ childhood friend Mary Pickford introduced them to D.W. Griffith, who launched their film careers. Lillian would become one of America’s best-loved actresses and is considered by many the First Lady of the Screen. In her 85-year career, she appeared in more than 100 films—from Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912) to Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987)—and also took numerous roles in television and on stage. Dorothy Gish began her stage career at the age of four and also went on to make more than 100 films, many of them with Lillian. Dorothy’s early work in film highlighted her keen sense of humor, bringing her acclaim as a star of comedy. At the end of the silent era, she turned her attention to the stage, where Success in Young Love brought her accolades with New York audiences, on the road and subsequently in London. In 1939 Dorothy and Lillian each played Vinnie Day, wife of Clarence Day, Sr., in two extensive American road company productions of Life with Father. Dorothy returned to film and television in the 1950s. Dorothy Gish died in 1968 with her sister by her side. Lillian Gish died in 1993 at the age of 99. Both sisters left the bulk of their estates to the arts, including a trust for the formation of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

Anna Deavere Smith Photo credit: Mary Ellen Mark.