Playwright/performer/journalist Anna Deavere Smith was named a recipient of a 1996 MacArthur Foundation Grant, often called the "genius" grant.
Smith, who is known for monologues including Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 -- in which she impersonates people on all sides of a controversial situation -- will get the $280,000 grant with no conditions.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Smith got word of the award in New Haven, CT, where she was peforming Twilight.
"It was really one of those moments of, 'Am I awake or am I dreaming?," the Times quoted Smith as saying. "It's a tremendous honor."
Smith was one of 20 people from many walks of life who were awarded the grants June 17. This year's list also includes New York director/writer John Jesurun, who also got $280,000. Previous theatre-related recipients of the genius grants have included New Vaudeville clown Bill Irwin and avant garde director Richard Foreman.
Smith, 45, a teacher at Stanford University in California, is working on a new drama about the presidency and the press in the 1996 presidential campaign. The yet-untitled play has already scheduled its debut, at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. in fall 1997.
The monologue will be a co-production with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and March Taper Forum in Los Angeles, where Smith will perform the piece subsequent to the DC debut.
The new play will be the 16th in Smith's On the Road: A Search for American Character journalism/theatre series in which she closely studies a community or event, interviewing the primary participants, then embodying them and their arguments from all points of view in a series of interweaving monologues. Smith generally performs the monologues herself.
The two best-known works in the series were Fires in the Mirror, about riots in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., after a Jewish man struck a black boy with his car and killed him; and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, about race riots in Los Angeles following the not-guilty verdict in the Rodney King beating case.
Explaining her decision to look into the presidential campaign, Smith said "I've gotten to the point in my search that I feel I now have to look to the nation's leadership as a critical part of that character."
No specific dates for the productions have been set.