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Letters to a Young Artist

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  610 ratings  ·  54 reviews
From "the most exciting individual in American theater" (Newsweek), here is Anna Deavere Smith's brass tacks advice to aspiring artists of all stripes. In vividly anecdotal letters to the young BZ, she addresses the full spectrum of issues that people starting out will face: from questions of confidence, discipline, and self-esteem, to fame, failure, and fear, to staying h ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published January 24th 2006 by Anchor
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Nov 17, 2015 rated it liked it
A loosely organized collection of musings on working in the arts. The tone struck me as being very much born from a woman who has "made it" and gained so much respect and success in her career. So there are plenty of gems. But there are just as many asides about lunch with the rich and famous and references to the most impressive highlights on her resume. For a book purported to be so focused on putting art into the hands of a young artist, it made the art world seem completely unattainable. Bey ...more
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a challenging, motivating book. Smith has written it in the form of a series of letters to an imaginary young artist named BZ, who ostensibly won her mentorship in an auction. The letters are meant to offer BZ encouragement to pursue a life in the arts. Smith offers inspirational advice about the civic applications of art, and how it can reveal to audiences a new way of dealing with their own emotions and therefore viewing the world, as well as practical advice about staying hydrated, l ...more
May 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Anna Smith's book, written to the young artist reader, is engaging and easy to read. Her style is simple, to the point, and eloquent. She has some excellent chapters on determination, procrastination, developing presence...etc. which are thought provoking and inspiring. She has relatively good insight into the deeper workings of the artistic mind and helps the reader to become more intentional with their lives as artists, as well as more aware of the artist's place in this world. Nonetheless, he ...more
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading this but could already reread it. There's something to words presented as letters that has great appeal to me.

The book is full of advice both practical and personal for anyone pursuing a creative endeavor. There's also a substantial list of resources for artists, both state and federal. (You could track them all down online, I'm sure, but it's nice to see them in print.)

Smith's writing is warm, thoughtful, direct, with sprinkles of tough love. It's also a glimpse into her
Jan 01, 2008 rated it liked it
i mostly bought this to help raise funds for the local femenist bookstore. but then i started reading it...

this is a good antidote to the romantic solitude you find in rilke's "letters... (see my review of rilke in my booklist)" ADS is very refreshing and i did come away with some practical advice. although i have to say that a good bulk of what she writes seems like something i would have needed to read five or ten years ago.
Sep 08, 2008 rated it liked it
i like this book. there are small gems and it can be the pep talk when you can't give it to yourself.
Syed Bukhari
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books for those creative souls who are seeking non-management advice on their careers and life in general.
Dec 07, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: acting-technique
I saw this book in Borders last night and read half of it in one sitting. (I'm going to have to go back and read the other half soon). It would make a great bathroom book beacuse it is organized as a series of short letters, some no more than a few words. Parts that jumped out to me: ADS talks about presence and what it is to have it. In her opinion it means being aware and engaged. People who are the most compelling are the ones who are interested in other people. This seems counterintuitive to ...more
Dec 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: writers & artists of all kinds
Shelves: creativity
I'm a fan of Anna Deavere Smith. I enjoyed this book and would rate it 3.5 if I could, it's a quick read with each chapter a written response to a young artist (it is called fiction, but it sure feels real reading it). The information in it is not new, but I like how she puts pieces together and throughout the book she gives the reader ideas to keep one's spirit up about the work of creating art. One section titled Find Your Twin, she gives the task to do this very thing and says, " These are th ...more
Apr 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction-read
An absolute confirmation of what any artist with a shred of sincerity knows to be true. Stated in warm, human letters written to a teenager. these short chapters are affirming and enlightening at any age. After 20 years as a professional musician, working often in experimental areas, I can say this all applies to us too. Certain issues return at every stage: searching for a balance of paying the rent and taking risks, managing authority, and staying on track with just doing the work, to name a f ...more
Oct 07, 2014 rated it liked it
In an interesting approach to writing a book of advice, Smith addresses a collection of "letters" to an imaginary young person who aspires to have a career in the arts and who seems to have reached out to her for guidance. This gimmick makes you feel closer to Smith, but is also stretched a little far. Sometimes it simply adds a little to the book's overall eccentricity, and sometimes it grows tiresome. This hit-or-miss quality also characterizes the book itself. Organized loosely around themes ...more
Ahmad Moshrif
Jul 30, 2014 rated it liked it
not much ...

but I really liked when she talks about discipline, here is the key takeaway by Maria Popova from

She (ADS) recounts an encounter with the son of Melvin van Peebles, a black filmmaker who made a smash-hit independent film in the seventies that earned him a lot of money and cultural status. The son, Mario van Peebles, had made a film about his father’s film, a screening of which Smith hosted. She writes:

"He must be in his mid-sixties, and he is in perfect physical sh
Rini Cobbey
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
ADS doesn't waste time with wimpy, elementary, or patronizing tips and inspirations for an artist. Peppered economically with personal anecdotes, each essay instructs fundamental, practical, and philosophically persuasive work for an artist to do. She addresses process, feelings, sociality of art, business, physiology, responsibility, joy, belief, and so many specific tasks and values. Even while engaging many familiar ideas, I kept finding myself wanting to share and practice what I was hearing ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Actress, MacArthur fellow and Professor Anna Deavere Smith's performance at the North Carolina Literature Festival was one of the most astonishing I have ever seen. She has interviewed hundreds of people, famous and not, who do meaningful work with their lives or who have lived through life-changing or life-shattering experiences or both--a privileged white doctor witnessing the humanity and inhumanity at Charity Hospital after Katrina, a victim and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Texas Govern ...more
miha ha
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
zelo všeč!!

zbirka vseh avtoričinih pisem ki jih je pisala neki mladi umetnici kot njena mentorica oz. ji je v teh pismih svetovala kako se lotit ustvarjanja, na kaj bit pozoren, kaj je pomembno v svetu umetnosti, ...
zelo fajn, cel kup stvari za premislt :)

Discipline - don't think about it, just do it, have a shedule and stick to it

Determination - believe you can do it and don't stop until you succeed, believe in yourself and in the process

The joy of being there, of doing it, enjoy what you do,
Mar 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-proofed
This is a mixture of practical advice and personal reflection on being an artist in the world. Anna Deavere-Smith is insightful and honest about what it means to be an artistic person trying to make a living and what it takes to be successful. This isn't a pep talk or one of those personal growth books that pretend to solve all your problems in eight simple lessons. It is more in keeping with Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, using personal experiences as starting points for rich meditations on a ...more
Bridgette Hoshont'omba
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, owned
I first read “Letters to a Young Artist” in 2013. I had signed up for a college level theatre course at my local high school, and this was one of two books required for the course. Once Smith’s book arrived at my house I dived in and did not stop reading until the pages were marked from top to bottom and I had memorized nearly everything that she had said. This is definitely a book for anyone who wants to be or would consider themselves an artist.

ash newton
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
a pragmatic and inspiring mentor is available to all young artists in the form of anna deavere smith. included are letters to "bz" spanning from the 90's to 2000's. her final advice is most powerful. "through discipline, you can learn how to absorb the complex, and to translate it simply... stay strong, stay you, stay new". as a text alone this is great, but her real talent and presence as a performer shines in the audiobook performance, so i recommend it in that format if you can get it.
Keisha Kogan
Nov 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have ever read on preparing for and working in the arts. Anna Deavere Smith tells us such perfectly fundamentals things for living that we have completely forgotten, having presence, paying attention, developing discipline and listening to those around you. The thing I learned that I most appreciate - be prepared. Read it whether you work in the arts or not.
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Some of the letters didn't speak to me, some felt like I'd need to return to them in a few years or a dozen, and others lit me up. At the moment I am living by this line from one of the last letters in the book: "You have an invisible badge of freedom, an invisible passport that says, 'Go—move, gather, be bold, be brave, see, take, absorb.'”
Feb 15, 2008 rated it did not like it
i loved 'fires in the mirror' and perhaps approached this book with too high of expectations. the introduction was absolutely inspiring and there were some good sound-bites throughout- but i just couldn't get into it.
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended by Jodi, a fellow Goodreads participant who is also an artist. Anna Deavere Smith writes to a fictional young artist regarding issues relative to working in the arts. Affirming and helpful.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very good advice for creative people. Anna Deavere Smith has pithy observations about life, great stories about her life as an artist, and sets forth a very clear idea of what it means to be an artist and interact with the world.
Susan Conley
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love books that talk art and the making of art and do it in a way that inspires people to get out there and start working. This book has given me ideas to bring into the various writing classrooms I find myself in.
Jul 15, 2016 added it
This was a very comforting and reaffirming book. Good book and good, practical, advice into the life of an artist, what to expect, what to do, etc. The fact that it's written in the form of letters is a big bonus.
Dec 29, 2006 added it
fun, she supposedly taught at my school but i NEVER SAW HER
Meg Cain
May 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: artists of every kind
Shelves: fiction
Never in my life have I read a more inspiring book. I was left each page with a strong desire to do anything and everything I've ever wanted to do.
Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Great advice for all ages, all disciplines not just "young artists"
Dec 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: artists
i read this as the art on paper in magazine special. would love to read it again.
Dec 11, 2008 added it
Shelves: art
started this for inspiration. some of it i agree with, some i'm like, woh that is totally out of left field. taking it with a grain of salt.
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Anna Deavere Smith (born September 18, 1950) is an American actress, playwright, and professor. She is currently the artist in residence at the Center for American Progress. Smith is widely known for her roles as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally in The West Wing and as Hospital Administrator Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie. She is a recipient of The Dorothy and Lillian G ...more

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