Anna Deavere Smith performs oral histories in bare feet so that she can walk in the words of her subjects. An award-winning actress, playwright, teacher, and author, she is also pushing history/legal history into new domains. Deavere Smith explores controversial subjects from multiple points of view: women’s relationship to justice and law, genocide in Rwanda, rioting in New York’s racially charged Crown Heights neighborhood. In this performance for the non-profit ideas organization TED, she portrays fellow oral historian Studs Terkel, a female prison inmate, a Korean-American woman reflecting on the Rodney King police brutality trials, and a bull rider. Her latest production Let Me Down Easy will air on PBS’s 2011-12 Great Performances series.
See also “Broken Sentences: Women in Prison tell their Stories,” The New Yorker, 26 February 1996, p. 158-163, and listen to selections from the digital Studs Terkel/WFMT oral history archives at the Chicago History Museum. The Terkel audio-recordings—radio interviews, readings, and musical programs—document the political, cultural, and literary history of Chicago and the United States from the 1950s through the 1990s.
Anna Deveare Smith in Twilight: Los Angeles, photograph by Adger W. Cowans