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Anna Deavere Smith wins George Polk Award in Journalism

Anna Deavere Smith, here in

Anna Deavere Smith, here in "Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education." at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was recognized by the 68th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism on Monday. Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Anna Deavere Smith, better known as a playwright and performer than as a journalist, was recognized by the 68th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism, it was announced Monday by Long Island University.

Smith, whose solo works recreate verbatim interviews on social issues, received the George Polk Career Award. Her most recent play, “Notes from the Field,” which ran Off-Broadway last fall at Second Stage Theatre, explores the school-to-prison pipeline and its link to childhood trauma.

As she told Newsday in a recent interview, “There’s a growing gap between who gets to go to school and be taken care of since they were two, and the children I have learned about in this project. It’s not just about race, but about the inequity in the opportunity to have a life of wonder and joy.”

Over the decades, Smith arguably invented the form of one-person, multicharacter documentary theater. In her major works — including “Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities” and “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” — she imbues different views on tough topics with a “Rashomon” combination of empathy, curiosity and contradictory truths.

Other Polk recipients include The New York Times for coverage of the Venezuela economic collapse and The Washington Post for its “dogged pursuit” of Donald Trump.

“This election year was a tough one for journalism,” said John Darnton, curator of the Polk Awards, adding that “a vibrant press continues to inform, expose, tell the truth and occasionally fill us all with outrage at injustice.”

Winners will be honored at a private luncheon ceremony April 7.

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