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From Anna Deavere Smith here is brass-tacks advice to aspiring artists of all stripes, in the tradition of Rilke's classic Letters to a Young Poet.
Hailed as a pioneering force in American theater for her signature documentary style of performance, Anna Deavere Smith here looks back on lessons from thirty years of acting and teaching to help chart the path to success for a new generation of artists and performers. In vividly anecdotal letters to the young BZ, who has won, at auction, Deavere Smith's mentorship for a period of five years, she shows how to combine artistic integrity with professional savvy, covering everything from what to wear and how to stay healthy to the artist's role in social change and the importance of building a diverse network of friends and professional alliances. At once inspiring and no-nonsense, Letters to a Young Artist offers a bracing set of life lessons and a motivating example for how to pursue one's art with compromise.
“Nearly a century after Rainer Maria Rilke wrote Letters to a Young Poet, actress and author Smith offers her own collection of wisdom, advice, and personal anecdotes, directed in letters sent to a young, fictitious painter. Loosely combined into categories, the selections speak with passion and candor about creating art and the realities of an artist’s life, beginning with the “the basics” of focusing and learning to live both “inside and outside” the world, overcoming procrastination, and caring for oneself: “In most circles of successful artists, there is a lot more health and wholesomeness than one is led to believe.” Whether she is speaking about childhood memories, tough Hollywood situations, or finding inspiration in the work of others, Smith is generous, vulnerable, and often electrifying in her perceptions. Readers of all disciplines will come away from these pages feeling opened, nurtured, and eager to follow Smith’s call to action: “Everything starts with an all-night conversation. Find a spiritual twin to walk the city streets with, to waken the dawn with, to construct a world with.” —Gillian Engberg
“Anna Deavere Smith’s clear, honest responses to a younger artist’s questions offer a philosophical stance on what it is to be an artist. . . . Her advice is as relevant to a youngster just beginning to explore artistic options as it is to adults already accomplished in their art. What she has to say is not limited to any age, gender, language, culture, or choice of artistic endeavor.” —Esmeralda Santiago, author of When I Was Puerto Rican
“A very important book—totally engaging, enlightening, and educating. I wish I had had this book when I started photographing in 1963. It would have made my path much clearer and less lonely. Anna Deavere Smith is a motivating example for all of us.” —Mary Ellen Mark, photographer
“Ring the bell! Class is in session. Anna Deavere Smith’s book tells it like it is! It will serve as inspiration to artists of every age. With intelligence and passion she gives those who choose a life in the arts some very valuable advice on how to stay on the path. I loved it!” —Laurence Fishburne, actor
“Thinking of trying to make it as an actor, a writer, a painter, or a singer? Know someone who is, but just doesn’t know where to start? This invaluable book points the way. Combining her extraordinary spirit with her tremendous good sense, Anna Deavere Smith has written a nuts-and-bolts guide that is also an anthem to the creative life. It will fire you up throughout your career.” —Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin
“Letters to a Young Artist is a thoughtful and deeply engaging meditation on life and the making of art, written with warmth, humor, and above all, insight and intelligence.” —Glenn Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art
“It is evident in this timely offering that Anna Deavere Smith has the keen ability not only to listen but also, more importantly, to truly hear. With the grace of generosity shown in Letters to a Young Artist, Ms. Smith is endowing a new generation of young artists, compelling them to take that ‘leap of faith’ toward possibility. These incredible letters encourage aspiring artists—wherever they may be—to step forward, while laying the path for them to do so.” —Agnes Gund, founder of Studio in a School
“It offers as much to teachers, writers, all of us who are becoming, as it does to actors and poets.” —Maxine Greene, Emeritus Professor at Columbia - Teacher's College, Philosopher of Education.