Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field

by Anna Deavere Smith


View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


"Smith’s powerful style of living journalism uses the collective, cathartic nature of the theater to move us from despair toward hope.” —The Village Voice 

Anna Deavere Smith’s extraordinary form of documentary theater shines a light on injustices by portraying the real-life people who have experienced them. "One of her most ambitious and powerful works on how matters of race continue to divide and enslave the nation” (Variety). 

Smith renders a host of figures who have lived and fought the system that pushes students of color out of the classroom and into prisons. (As Smith has put it: “Rich kids get mischief, poor kids get pathologized and incarcerated.”)

Using people’s own words, culled from interviews and speeches, Smith depicts Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, who eulogized Freddie Gray; Niya Kenny, a high school student who confronted a violent police deputy; activist Bree Newsome, who took the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina State House grounds; and many others. Their voices bear powerful witness to a great iniquity of our time—and call us to action with their accounts of resistance and hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525564591
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/21/2019
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 228,601
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Anna Deavere Smith is an actress, teacher, playwright, and the creator of the acclaimed On the Road series of one-woman plays, which are based on her interviews with diverse voices from communities in crisis. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Obama and two Obie Awards, her work also been nominated for a Pulitzer and two Tonys. Onscreen, she has appeared in many films and television shows, including Philadelphia, The West Wing, Black-ish, and Nurse Jackie. She is University Professor in the department of Art & Public Policy at NYU, where she also directs the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue. In 2019, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Read an Excerpt


President and Director-Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
From an Onstage Conversation between Ms. Ifill and Ms. Smith
Baltimore, Maryland, June 3, 2015
“Big Bets”

(Ms. Ifill is a public figure. Really good with a crowd, could run for office. African American, late forties. Brightly colored jacket, simple slacks. Footage is available to study her speech patterns, some of which are indicated within the text via punctuation.
In a theater in Baltimore, standing room only, a crowd that is really revved up, not that long after the Baltimore riots in 2015. Onstage being interviewed by the author. Handheld mic in her hand, easy chairs, table, flowers, water.)

I get asked this question all the time: what—how would you, what is the number one civil rights issue of the day. And . . . and I’m very uncomfortable with that question. Because . . . it is impossible to talk about the criminal justice system. Mass incarceration. Without talking about education. Because this country is always engaged in investments. Big investments, we make big bets. Nineteen-fifties, you know, this country massively invested in the creation of the suburbs, right? We created the interstate highway system. We provided, you know, tax credits to developers to build suburbs—that were racially exclusionary, by the way. But we made an investment! We decided—we—we made a massive investment in creating a middle class, really beginning in the 1930s, when the federal government started to insure mortgages, and only insured mortgages for—for white people, but we made an investment.

Now today, we pretend we don’t make investments. ’Cause we talk about balancing the budget, and deficits. And we don’t have any money, and we don’t make—but we always make investments. And one of the huge investments that we made was in the criminal justice system. And that investment was made at the expense of other investments. We have taken dollars that we used to give, and that we could give, to invest in the issue of mental illness. It’s not that we’re not investing in mental illness. We are. We’re investing it in the prison system. It’s not that we’re, you know, talking—we—we decided we’re going to cut the budget and so we’re not investing in education. Yeah. Kinda. We’ve taken it to the prison system.

So what we do is we take these investments that we could make, these big bets, and we place them somewhere. And that’s what we call policy. Which, you know, makes people’s eyes glaze over, but we should understand; policy is made up of the investments that we as a society decide to make.

The moment that we’re in, by the way. Not only, you know, [here] in Baltimore. [I] spent time in St. Louis County, with Ferguson over the last year, and our lawyers were down North Charleston, in South Carolina. Where Walter Scott was killed, and the man we saw on the video. Being shot.

There’s a lot of heaviness in this country in this moment. There’s a lot of pain. And, you know, I always say, “America is an interesting place.” It’s like one of my favorite movies, The Matrix. Where, you know, every once and a while, you eat the red pill? Whatever is the pill that makes you see the matrix. But you know, we can’t sustain it. Because it’s awful! You know, when you see all the strings, and you see everything that’s behind the scenes. We do have to enjoy ourselves. And live, and . . . make a way, you know, out of no way. But sometimes, you—you have to have these moments if we are going to move our society forward. It takes moments, kind of—almost epic moments. To move us, to be able to take the red pill. So there’s a way in which we are confronting this moment. And there is a privilege in that confrontation.

Table of Contents

Introduction xv

Production Notes xxi

Act 1

Prologue: Sherrilyn Ifill 3

The Death of Freddie Gray 9

Kevin Moore 11

Allen Bullock 17

Jamal Harrison Bryant 23

The Rose in Concrete 31

Michael Tubbs 33

On the River 39

Taos Proctor 41

Judge Abby Abinanti 47

Education and Survival 53

Leticia De Santiago 55

Tony Eady 59

The Shakara Story 65

Amanda Ripley 67

Niya Kenny 71

Act 2

A Candle in the Village 79

Sari Muhonen 81

Denise Dodson 87

Trauma 95

Dr. Victor Carrion, MD 97

Steven Campos 101

Stephanie Williams 107

Never Give Up 113

James Baldwin 115

Sherrilyn Ifill 119

Bryan Stevenson 123

Bree Newsome 131

Congressman John Lewis 139

About the Music 145

Acknowledgments 149

Customer Reviews