Anna Deavere Smith has won one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts. The committee that awards the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize announced Friday that the actress and playwright known for pioneering a form of theatrical journalism is this year's winner.
"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," said Darren Walker, of the Ford Foundation, who was on the selection committee.
The Gish Prize, now in its 19th year, recognizes leading artists in such fields as drama, music and dance, as well as literature. Smith joins past winners including Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller, Chinua Achebe and Robert Redford. The prize, from silent film stars Dorothy and Lillian Gish, comes with $300,000.
In a statement, Smith said: "I am deeply honored and can't imagine a greater honor than having my name linked with the incomparable Dorothy and Lillian Gish."
Smith creates one-woman documentary-style works such as "Fires in the Mirror" about a 1991 riot in New York and "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," about the 1992 Rodney King case. She recently tackled health care in "Let Me Down Easy."
As an actress, Smith has appeared on TV in "Nurse Jackie" and "The West Wing" and in films including "The American President," ''The Human Stain," ''Life Support" and "Rachel Getting Married."
Among her other honors are a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," two Tony Award nominations, an Obie and a Drama Desk Award. Her writings include the book "Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines and Letters to a Young Artist."