Anna Deavere Smith

Absorbing America, Absorbed by America

“So my grandfather told me when I was a little girl, ‘If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.’ And having grown up in a segregated city, Baltimore, Maryland, I sort of use that idea to go around America with a tape recorder — thank God for technology — to interview people, thinking that if I walked in their words—which is also why I don't wear shoes when I perform — if I walked in their words, that I could sort of absorb America. I was also inspired by Walt Whitman, who wanted to absorb America and have it absorb him.”

~ Anna Deavere Smith, from “Four American Characters,” TED Talks, Feb. 2005


See also: “What has happened to the human voice?Studs Terkel, from a 2005 interview.

Conditions that Foster Creativity

Anna Deavere Smith, from her Chataqua Institution lecture “Looking for Grace,”, September 13, 2009:

I started to think about the conditions that foster creativity. I would say that any modest amount of creativity that I’ve experienced—at least in my adult life—required the following: a restricted environment, uncertainty, independence and responsibility, a lack of safety, the need for change, richness of inner life, need, physical beauty, contradictions, and doubt.

Now, if we were to create a school or community where we wanted to foster creativity, we would probably not seed the growth of those attributes. I think that list would look something like this: an environment where possibility seemed endless, steadiness, a firm foundation, strong mentorship, safety, richness of inner life, provisions, clarity, confidence, and physical beauty.

"My tape recorder and my ear create the necessary distance that allows me to get close to another person."