The Power of Words: Anna Deavere Smith

Anne Deavere Smith, noted playwright, actress and speaker on race relations in the United States came to Ira Allen Chapel Thursday the sixth after being rescheduled from few weeks ago. She was brought in part by the First Year Experience Diversity Committee, the Department of Student Life, the Inter-Residence Association and the Student Government Association. Deavere Smith immediately captured audiences with what many viewed as an incredibly animated and thought-provoking presentation. Deavere Smith hypothesized to the overwhelmingly large crowd that “people speak in organic poems.” She has spent a good deal of her life trying to discover the exact relationship between language and identity. She has been tackling this riddle through interviewing countless people across the country. She seems to strive to live through their words and when relaying an interviewees feelings to a crowd, she not only repeats their exact words, but assumes their mannerisms and accents. This part of the show seemed to be the biggest selling point with the crowd “I liked the creativity and the way she turned into people during her speech” junior Greg Hovanesian pointed out. Deavere Smith seeks out the authenticity in her interviewee’s voices and related this to thought in action as opposed to the glossed over and editorialized version that the public normally hears. Deavere Smith believes that because of the heightened sensitivity people feel today about what others say, people are becoming afraid of words. She supported this theory with such common examples of speech nowadays as `love ya’ in place of `I love you’ and `lata’ instead of `I will talk to you later’. She asserts that this sensitivity also crosses into the racial realm where we reside in “safehouses of identity”. She stated that racial relations will not be resolved while people continue to huddle in these safehouses, and that they must first emerge and assume a vulnerable position. Deavere Smith continues her travels and interviews and when asked how she feels during such interviews she responded: “My job is to feel, I try to stay out of the way as their opera unfolds.”