New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

NYU’s Anna Deavere Smith Named Winner of the 19th Annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

January 19, 2013

Anna Deavere Smith, University Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with an affiliated appointment at NYU School of Law, has been named the 19th winner of the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.   The award, given annually as a legacy from the legendary film and stage actresses, recognizes an individual as a trailblazer in the arts who has redefined their art and pushed the boundaries of excellence in their field.  The honor comes with a $300,000 cash prize.  Smith will receive the Gish Prize Feb. 13 at a private event in New York City.

Established in 1994 by the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust, the Gish Prize is 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.” In her will, Lillian Gish stated: “It is my desire, by establishing this prize, to give recipients of the prize the recognition they deserve, to bring attention to their contributions to society and encourage others to follow in their path.” The Gish Prize is one of the largest monetary awards in the arts.  Past recipients have shaped the cultural landscape in drama, music, dance, art, architecture, lighting design, film and literature.

“The Gish Prize provides credibility and recognition for artists who invented a new path for themselves and their work,” said Smith.  “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.”

Playwright, actress, author, and educator Anna Deavere Smith first achieved acclaim with her one-woman theater works Fires in the Mirror, which dealt with the 1991 Crown Heights riot in New York; and Twilight: Los Angeles, about the violence surrounding the 1992 Rodney King case. On the basis of extensive interviews and research, 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.  Smith considers these and her other one-woman shows, which began in the 1980s, to be part of a series entitled On the Road: A Search for American Character. Her most recent such exploration, Let Me Down Easy (2008-2012), was on the subject of health care.

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.

Her 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.

She 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., which brings together artists, thinkers, and activists across disciplines with the goal of cultivating artistic excellence that embraces contemporary social issues.   She 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.


This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Tisch School of the Arts, School of Law, NYUToday-feature

Type: Press Release

Press Contacts:
Richard Pierce | (212) 998-6796
Shonna Keogan | (212) 998-6796

NYU’s Anna Deavere Smith Named Winner of the 19th Annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Anna Deavere Smith. Photo by Mary Ellen Mark

Search News

NYU In the News

NYU Offers Financial Aid to Undocumented Students

The Wall Street Journal reported that NYU will begin offering scholarship aid to undocumented students for the school year beginning next September.

NYU Adopts Lean LaunchPad Program to Teach Entrepreneurship

Startup guru Steve Blank, in a Huffington Post blog, described how NYU adopted the Lean LaunchPad model to teach entrepreneurship to students and faculty at NYU.

Biology Professor Jane Carlton Examines Wastewater for the City’s Microbiome

The New York Times’ Science Times column “Well” profiled Biology Professor Jane Carlton and her research project to sequence microbiome of New York City by examining wastewater samples.

Steinhardt Professors Use a Play as Therapy

The New York Times wrote about a play written by Steinhardt Music Professor Robert Landy about the relationship between Adjunct Professor Cecilia Dintino, a clinical psychologist in the Drama Therapy Program, and a patient, former Broadway actress Jill Powell.

NYU Public Health Experts Urge Strengthening Local Health Systems to Combat Ebola

Dean Cheryl Healton of the Global Institute of Public Health and Public Health Professor Christopher Dickey wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post saying international health agencies need to strengthen their presence in countries at the local level to prevent future ebola outbreaks.

NYU Footer