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Charles Smith

Charles Smith

Photographer: Kevin Riddell

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Charles Smith named 2010 Distinguished Professor

Nationally renowned playwright shares his talents, perspective with university, community


Charles Smith, professor of playwriting and head of the Professional Playwriting Program, has spent much of his career in Athens – a seemingly great distance from the stages of Chicago and New York. But, while he has trained students to illuminate those stages with their words, he has been doing the same.

In recognition of his excellence in teaching and his numerous artistic achievements, Smith was named the 2010 Distinguished Professor on June 11.

"We are very pleased to recognize Professor Smith and his body of work with our highest academic honor," said Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis.

Created in 1959, the Distinguished Professor Award annually recognizes one OHIO faculty member for scholarly or creative contributions that have received substantial recognition beyond the university community. In addition to its lifetime designation, the award provides recipients with one quarter of professional leave and the honor of naming one student annually to receive the Distinguished Professor Scholarship, a scholarship that covers a full year’s tuition.

In addition to his work leading the playwriting program at Ohio University, Smith is the playwright-in-residence for the Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago.  At Ohio University, he was named a 2001 Presidential Research Scholar in the arts and humanities.

Smith's nomination was spearheaded by Bob Winters, a professor emeritus in the School of Theater, and William Condee, a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Charles J. Ping Institute for the Teaching of the Humanities and professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts.

"(Charles) is someone who has distinguished himself as a playwright with a national reputation," said Condee. "It was also important to me that he is someone who is not at the end of his career. Charles is at the peak of his career, right now, getting national recognition."

Plays by Smith have been performed across the country in tours, off-Broadway productions and in commissions by theater companies. His play "Pudd'nhead Wilson" enjoyed a 22-city tour, and Smith has taken commissions from Victory Gardens, The Goodman, Seattle Rep, Indiana Rep, The Acting Company and Ohio University.

Smith's work has often dealt with issues frequently viewed by society as uncomfortable.

"The majority of his work uses various historical contexts to explore contemporary issues of race, identity and politics in America," said McDavis. "His work spans a gamut from contemporary investigations of historic icons to examinations of races and politics in a more current setting."

However, Smith's colleagues are quick to note that it is not only his professional accomplishments but also his compassion that has earned him the honor of Distinguished Professor.

"In my opinion, his teaching, his writing and his accomplishments represent the best balance of academic and professional work - a fine example of what can be achieved at Ohio University," said Winters. "He is a young man for having accomplished his achievements and can represent Ohio University as among the best, for years to come. He is a good man, willing to listen and communicate, willing to do his part in university governance, willing to be a productive member of the community."

An encouraging and open instructor, Smith has nurtured talents and gifts in students, resulting in national awards and recognition for the Ohio University Professional Playwriting Program. He has also put effort into instructing the community and sharing his knowledge, gifts and experience by hosting workshops for high school teachers.

"He is a very gentle, quiet and supportive teacher," said Condee. "To give an example, we worked together on a workshop for high school teachers on teaching issues of race in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It was wonderful to watch Charles in action. He would listen to people and talk to them about the issues in ways that they could understand."

Condee said that discussions during that workshop were telling examples of Smith's personality.

Winters, who nominated the late Distinguished Professor of Theater Ursula Belden in 2000, said that Smith exemplifies the true spirit of the award.

"They must be able to inspire their students, their colleagues, the university community and professional areas," he said. "They must be an individual that the university can point to with pride when representing 'the best' - in conversations with the community, the state, higher education and the - in some cases - the world. I think that Charles fills this bill now and will grow and develop even more as he moves into this responsibility."

Related Links

Charles Smith's website* Distinguished Professors MFA in playwriting program

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