The Goshen community got a lesson on the power of listening with an open mind last Tuesday by visiting actor, playwright and teacher Anna Deavere Smith.
Smith came to Goshen College to present this year’s Roy H. Umble Master Class and Yoder Public Affairs Lecture. Her campus visit was split into two sessions, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening.
The afternoon session, which took place in Umble, had a theme of peace and justice and focused on a conversation with students. Smith started the event with a few of her performances and some personal commentary. Her unique performance style of embodying the interviewees she’s talked to became apparent when she performed “Regret,” her interview with Pulitzer-Prize-winning photographer Cheryl Diaz Meyer.
Smith went on to perform two more pieces before opening up the floor for student questions. Through Smith’s answers she shared some of her wisdom, life experiences and more stories. Students were especially curious about the specific ways of being a better listener. But Smith also warned that students’ shouldn’t seek to come away with a “magic pill” solution from her and her presentations.
Smith’s second presentation of the night, in Sauder Concert Hall, was titled “Snapshots & Glimpses of America in Change,” and it focused on social action as an American novelty. Smith again performed some of the pieces that focused on what she referred to as the “American character.”
Smith performed scenes from two of her acclaimed plays, Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities and Twilight: Los Angeles. In the end she expressed to the crowd that social change and identity “isn’t as clear as black and white.”