African-American History Celebrated at Emerson: Part 2

By Christine Bernard and Tyler L. York

Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, which we will present February 23-26 in the Semel Theater, is the fourteenth part of Smith’s work in progress, On the Road: A Search for American Character, which she began in 1983. Her goal of this project is to discover as much about America as she can by “interviewing individual Americans from diverse backgrounds and different perceived levels of authority,” explains an ART hound review of her work.

May 1, 1992. Photo by Los Angeles Times

On the Road emphasizes the necessity to be open and learn about all types of experiences in order to have a broader view of society. “To address the problems that arise over ongoing racial divides–gang violence, poverty, inequality–we need to look back to the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. and reignite our collective imagination about what it’s like to be the ‘other person,’” expressed Smith two years ago at the UC Santa Cruz’s 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation.

Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is an esteemed African-American actress, playwright, and professor. She earned a B.A. from Beaver College in Pennsylvania in 1971 and a MFA in 1976 from the American Conservatory Theater, where she pursued acting because she was “interested in social change,” mentions a New York Times article on Smith. Twilight demonstrates her desire for social change well; it raises awareness on the many social issues we have faced and are still facing today in the United States, particularly where race is concerned. Twilight not only examines race in America from the African-American point-of-view, but also those such as the Latino and Korean perspective.

Presenting this work during the twentieth anniversary year and during African-American History Month highlights the issues surrounding race, class, and underlying tensions in America. Benny Sato Ambush, director of Twilight, believes the show resonates with our nation as much today as it does with the events that occurred twenty years ago. “Those grievances and root causes are not just still with us in 2012, but in many cases have deepened, sharpened and remain largely unaddressed. Powder keg situations abound throughout the nation similar to what led to these prior explosions. An inciting incident is all that is needed to detonate another round of urban insurrection. Will it happen again?”

In reward for her incredible work, Smith was one of the 1996 recipients of the MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the “genius grant.” She also won a 2006 Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for her contribution to the civil rights issues as well as many other awards and nominations.


Christine Bernard is a junior BS Marketing Communication major at Emerson College.

Tyler L. York is the Assistant to the General Manager of Emerson Stage / Department of Performing Arts at Emerson College.


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