Anna Deavere Smith

Letters to a Young Artist

“I am interested in the artist who is awake, or who wants desperately to wake up.”

Actress, thespian and writer, Anna Deavere Smith, wrote this book, Letters to a Young Artist, to an imagined mentee. And reading it, we all become such mentees. It is warm, encouraging and uplifting. Deavere Smith tackles those pestering items of self-esteem, self-doubt, how to be strong and individual. She also defines presence perfectly.

My favorite is a section about being in it and out of it, what Alan Lightman terms “convergent” and “divergent” thinking. Empathy is key. “Fundamental to becoming an artist is understanding the position of an artist rehearsing that position.” Certainly, we must be both a participant and an observer, Deavere Smith shows us how.

For another extension of wisdom and courage, read Maya Angelou’s Letter to my Daughter and Rilke’s timeless advice to bolster a vulnerable spirit in Letters to a Young Poet.