Arts, Culture & Media

Interview with Anna Deavere Smith

In the latest chapter of her book, ADS tackles the human qualities of generosity and grace, amongst others: there's a doctor at Yale who I represent in the show. He's at the top of his field and he personifies grace because he understands the dignity of any human being is critical to embrace. He says because of a human we can look inside genes and cells and we couldn't have done this in the past. What's missing is the realization is that the person being studied is a fully developed human being with his or her own dreams and hopes and desires, and we can't get too caught up in science and forget about that. He's calling for a kind of grace in medicine which would allow a doctor to interact with that dignity. (Contrast that with the people in Rwanda.) Well it's different because their idea of grace is informed by Christianity and one of the young women who I present in the show talks about grace as releasing the person who killed her family. (Remind us what happened to this woman and her family.) This young woman is at Stanford pre-med right now. she was one of seven children and was six years old during the genocide. She and her sister went off on her own because her family decided to split up. Her sister was 10. in the course of the genocide they were just about to be killed and when they were just about to be killed, the rebels said, you know what, we're tired, we're going to go home, you kids just go and you'll be killed by sorrow. She didn't know what that meant at the time. so when I interviewed her once before, she had said she had forgiven those who killed her parents. But they never asked for forgiveness so they couldn't really be given forgiveness. So I'm giving them grace because in the meantime they're oblivious and they're still wronging me. So I tell them I release you, I'm not holding you in my heart anymore. That's grace. (When you hear stories like that and then galvanize all the stories you get from all over the world, how do make sense of it and make a through line, in this instance, about grace?) I go on a journey, so I'm trying to find meaning all the time about these kinds of things. So I talked to, for example, a rabbi in Los Angeles and he talked about that sentence �Never Again,� and he said someone said you would think, given the history since 1945, that sentence means never again would we let crimes like genocide happen. But it's done nothing of the kind. So you need to rededicate yourself to goodness. So I don't expect to find answers in the journeys I go on, but I try to find things that will cause the audience to want to do something to make things better. (Is this an optimistic show?) I think it has a lot of goodness. I don't like the word optimism. Optimism leaves the self out of it too much�hope is about the dignity of struggle. I would say grace is about the inherent beauty in struggle. So in bringing these difficult stories, I've tried to exhibit the beauty of grace.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

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