What It Takes

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Revealing, intimate conversations with visionaries and leaders in the arts, science, technology, public service, sports and business. These engaging personal stories are drawn from interviews with the American Academy of Achievement, and offer insights you’ll want to apply to your own life.

Academy of Achievement


    • Jan 17, 2022 LATEST EPISODE
    • every other week NEW EPISODES
    • 45m AVG DURATION
    • 185 EPISODES

    Listeners of What It Takes that love the show mention: johnny cash, inspiring interviews, inspiring stories, morgan, 10 stars, treasure, king, andrew, cultural, exceptional, struggles, allows, series, lessons, particularly, outstanding, fascinating, gift, inspirational, successful.



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    Latest episodes from What It Takes

    E.O. Wilson, Richard Evans Schultes and Wade Davis: Pl(ants) of the Gods

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 17, 2022 56:15

    E.O. Wilson was sometimes called "the father of biodiversity," sometimes "a modern-day Darwin," and sometimes simply "Ant Man." His recent death was an enormous loss to the world of biology and environmentalism.  You'll hear him tell wonderful stories here, including one about how a childhood disability gave him a great advantage in his work. You'll also get to know two major figures in a related field: ethnobotany. Richard Schultes created the field with his groundbreaking studies in the Amazon, back in the 1940's & 50's. He studied the plants that the indigenous populations used for healing, in an effort to identify new molecules that could be used in modern medicine. Along the way, he discovered over 2,000 plants previously unknown to science. One of Schultes' proteges was Wade Davis, who furthered the work of ethnobotany, and today is a best-selling author of books about indigenous cultures around the world.

    Best of - Sidney Poitier: Trailblazing Screen Legend

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 8, 2022 54:14

    Sidney Poitier changed America's view of black men. And he changed Hollywood. The star of “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,” “The Defiant Ones,” and “In The Heat of the Night” became, in 1964, the first African-American to win an Academy Award (for “Lillies of the Field”). He was a leading man and box office sensation throughout the 1950's and 60's, portraying a huge array of characters with a dignity, courage and humanity that was radical for its time. Sidney Poitier died on Thursday, January 6th, at the age of 94.  In his honor, we are reposting this episode from 2016. In it, Poitier talks about his remarkable life, and he describes how his childhood on a tiny island in the Bahamas made all the difference in his view of himself, and in the choices he made throughout his career as an actor.

    Best of - Archbishop Desmond Tutu: The Power of Faith

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 27, 2021 39:07

    Desmond Tutu was the moral force that helped bring down Apartheid in South Africa. As a young priest, he was not very political, despite the fact that he'd grown up under the most brutal form of segregation. But his theology evolved, he says, and he realized it was a divine calling to fight for justice. Archbishop Tutu died on December 26th, 2021.  In his honor, we are replaying this episode from December of 2015. In it, you'll hear Archbishop Tutu describe his personal, spiritual and political journey -- including the Nobel Peace Prize and chairmanship of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You'll also hear his passionate explanation of why humans are essentially good, no matter how often the facts seem to suggest otherwise. 

    Edna O'Brien: Love, Loss and Literature

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 13, 2021 48:46

    Edna O'Brien's first novel, "The Country Girls," was banned in Ireland, and burned in her own home parish.  The year was 1960, and young Irish women of that era were NOT supposed to reflect on their lot in life, or harbor sexual desires. But Edna O'Brien had one goal as a young writer - to tell the truth. Decades later, her compatriots finally came to view her the way the rest of the world did: as a trailblazer, and as one of Ireland's greatest living writers. Forty plus books and plays later, truth-telling is still Edna O'Brien's goal. She talks here, at age 91, about her life and her love of words. 

    Best of - Steven Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski: Images of the Imagination

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 6, 2021 51:53

    Steven Spielberg hired Janusz Kaminski as the cinematographer for "Schindler's List” twenty-five years ago, and they have worked together, hand-in-glove, ever since. Their collaboration has produced "Saving Private Ryan," "Bridge of Spies," "Lincoln," and many others, including the new, eagerly-awaited "West Side Story,"  which opens December 10th.  In this episode, which originally posted in 2016, both filmmakers tell how they fell in love with the movies and learned to make them. Spielberg talks about his first camera and trusting his instincts, and Kaminski talks about how growing up in 1970's Poland gave him an unusual eye on the world.

    Best of - Stephen Sondheim: Maestro of Broadway

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 29, 2021 63:42

    He grew up next door to Oscar Hammerstein and became his greatest protege. In 1957, he wrote the lyrics for "West Side Story," and for the next 60 years dominated the world of musical theater, and transformed it.  His songs managed to express the most complex and vital human emotions, and touched generations of theatergoers.  Stephen Sondheim was still writing and composing at 91, until Thanksgiving night, when he died suddenly, hours after dining with a group of friends.  The shows he leaves behind include "West Side Story," "Gypsy," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Company," "A Little Night Music," "Sweeney Todd," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Into the Woods," and "Assassins." In this episode, which originally posted in 2018, he pulls back the curtain on his life and work, giving fascinating insights into some of the greatest Broadway collaborations of all time, and into the process of writing a song for the stage.

    Best of - Carole King and Hal David: More Than Beautiful

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 22, 2021 39:30

    While listening to this episode, we dare you to NOT sing out loud. Carole King and Hal David were each one half of a legendary songwriting duo, and each responsible for many of the greatest songs of the 1960's and 70's (too many to start mentioning here, but we packed as many as we could into the podcast). If you like a medley, you're in the right place. Carole King worked with (and was married to) Gerry Goffin. Hal David worked with Burt Bacharach. They all worked in New York City's Brill Building early in their careers, surrounded by record label execs, music publishers, radio promoters, and pianos. Lots and lots of pianos. The impact they had on music in the second half of the 20th century is undisputed.  This episode originally posted in 2016. We present this encore version in honor of Carole King's 2021 induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. 

    Zahi Hawass and Kent Weeks: Golden Age of the Pharaohs

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 8, 2021 59:43

    Much of what we've learned over the past half-century about the ancient Egyptians, we've learned from these two archaeologists. They've both made major discoveries and have played a crucial role in protecting the pyramids and burial sites for future generations. Zahi Hawass is a National Geographic explorer, and once oversaw all of antiquities Egyptian government. But beyond that, he has drawn millions of tourists to visit Egypt, with his many books and television documentaries.  He wears a signature hat, and is famous for his outsized personality.  Kent Weeks is a more professorial type.  He is retired now, but for 60 years lived and breathed the life of the Pharaohs.  He created what many consider the most important preservation effort ever undertaken in Egypt: The Theban Mapping Project.  It catalogued every tomb and every shard of pottery unearthed in The Valley of the Kings.  We hear just what motivated each of them to spend their lives unearthing the secrets of a 5,000 year old civilization.

    Best of - General Colin Powell: My American Journey

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 25, 2021 58:03

    Colin Powell, who died on October 18, 2021, wore many hats during his distinguished career in public service, among them: Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Advisor. And he was the first African-American to hold each of those positions. When he joined the Army in the 1950's, though, his only ambition was to be a good soldier. It was beyond the realm of possibility for the son of working class Jamaican immigrants to aspire much higher. In this episode, which originally posted in September of 2017, you'll hear Powell's stories about his journey from the South Bronx, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the Jim Crow South, to the highest reaches of government, and about the decades of American history he helped shape.

    Best of - Johnny Cash: True To His Own Voice

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 18, 2021 21:07

    He had a voice that could make a mountain quake. And his impact on the world of music is legendary. As fans prepare to celebrate the arrival of a new Johnny Cash album -- recorded live in 1968 but never released -- we take a second listen to the very first episode of What It Takes.  You'll hear the deeply introspective Cash near the end of his career (1993). He reflects on how he overcame considerable personal obstacles and turned his failures into the stepping stones to success. He also talks about the first music he remembers, the voice teacher who advised him to stop taking lessons, and the source of his creativity.

    Denton Cooley, Willem Kolff and William DeVries: King of Hearts

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 4, 2021 67:58

    The 1960's, 70's and 80's brought about a revolution in the treatment of heart and kidney disease.  Dialysis, organ transplants, coronary bypass, open heart surgery and many other procedures that we think of as almost routine today - were created during those decades. Meet three of the important innovators who, between them, have saved millions of lives.  Denton Cooley performed the first human-to-human heart transplant, Willem Kolff invented dialysis and is considered the father of artificial organs, and William DeVries was the first surgeon to implant a permanent artificial heart in a dying patient.  They tell the stories here of what led them to the forefront of their field, and describe the rewards of a career spent saving lives.  

    Best of - George Lucas: The Force Will Be With You

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 20, 2021 39:14

    George Lucas's only dream as a teenager was to race cars, but he went on to create the most popular films in motion picture history.  Along the way, while writing and directing Star Wars, Indiana Jones and American Graffiti, he learned life-changing lessons about humility, generosity, and the inestimable value of friendship…. as well as the secret to happiness.  A not-too-subtle hint here: it has nothing to do with fame and fortune.  *This episode was originally published in 2015.

    Christiane Amanpour: Life on the Front Line

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 6, 2021 54:19

    She is one of the most recognized, respected and admired journalists in the world. Christiane Amanpour has covered just about every war and conflict of the past four decades and she has never shied from danger.  She talks here about the forces that shaped her: an unusual childhood in Iran, and the revolution that upended her family's life.  She describes the hard work and luck that landed her a job at CNN, when it was still a fledgling network, and the circumstances that to her becoming a foreign correspondent, at a time when there were still huge barriers for women in television news.  She tells stories of some of the most important and horrifying world events that she witnessed up close. And she explains why her mantra in journalism is "truthful, not neutral." 

    Hamid Karzai: Chaos Rules

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 23, 2021 41:09

    Two decades ago, he rode into Afghanistan on a motorcycle with just three compatriots, hoping to overthrow the brutal Taliban regime. Against all odds, Hamid Karzai succeeded, and became president of his country for the next 14 years.  Just before he was formally chosen as president, he made an appearance at the Academy of Achievement's International Summit, and told the miraculous tale you'll hear here. Karzai was filled with hope and optimism for Afghanistan that day, and spoke of his vision for the country's future. Those dreams, of course, were shattered this past week, as the Taliban retook the country, and thousands flooded The Hamid Karzai International Airport, desperate to flee. 

    Best of - James Michener: Master Storyteller

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 16, 2021 38:16

    James Michener was born to tell stories. He was one of the most popular and best-selling American novelists of all time… able to merge equal parts fiction, history, geography and culture into a perfect, page-turning blend. Here, he tells his own dramatic and mysterious life story, and he describes his very first venture into writing fiction, when he was stationed on an island in the Pacific during World War II. The book that came of that experience was "Tales of the South Pacific," which earned him a Pulitzer, and later became the Broadway hit and movie: “South Pacific.” Michener also describes what he calls some of the “differential experiences” in his life, like the very moment he decided he would live his life as if he were a great man. And he extols all of us to look out for unexpected opportunities and grab them. This episode originally posted in November of 2015.

    Robert Ballard: Modern-Day Captain Nemo

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 2, 2021 57:19

    He's a modern-day Captain Nemo - the person responsible for much of what we've learned about the Earth's oceans over the past sixty years. He's best-known as the person who discovered the Titanic and other historic shipwrecks. But his contributions to science and his dedication to exploration are what he's proudest of. In the 1970's Bob Ballard was one of the first people to explore the bottom of the sea in a submersible, and he was the first to begin mapping its geography. He later helped discover the existence of hydro-thermal vents, holes in the ocean floor where the water circulates through the planet's interior. Over the decades he has pioneered new and better ways for oceanographers to explore and document - in manned vehicles and robotic ones. At 79, he continues to innovate and to educate new generations of ocean scientists. On this episode we'll also hear from one of his proteges, Allison Fundis, who is making her own significant contributions to our understanding of the oceans that sustain us.

    Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard and Elie Wiesel: Messengers of Humanity

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 19, 2021 42:12

    These three writers used the power of their pens to expose and explore man's inhumanity to man.  You'll hear the presentations they gave at the Academy of Achievement's International Summits.  South African novelist and anti-Apartheid activist Nadine Gordimer was the author of "Burger's Daughter" and "July's People", and she received the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature.  Playwright Athol Fugard, also South African and an outspoken critic of Apartheid, received the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2011.  His most famous plays include "Master Harold and the Boys" and "The Blood Knot". The third writer we'll hear from is Elie Wiesel, the legendary Auschwitz survivor who wrote many novels and non-fiction books about the horrors of the Holocaust, but always with a sense of hope for humankind.  He was also an unrelenting advocate for human rights around the world, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  All three writers speak here about their lives and give profound advice to young people about how to live a meaningful life. 

    Best of - Sir Roger Bannister: The Mile of the Century

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 12, 2021 35:36

    On the morning of May 6th, 1954, Roger Bannister achieved what most people believed was not humanly possible: he ran a mile in  under four minutes. It is considered one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time, alongside Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mt. Everest. Bannister was a medical student at the time. He had already been to the Olympics, two years before.  And he had spent eight years developing his own unique approach to training - one that allowed him to very gradually improve speed, while leaving time for his studies. He talks here about his childhood in wartime England, and about daring to dream the impossible.  This episode was originally published in 2016. 

    Twyla Tharp and Justin Peck: High Priests of Creative Movement

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 28, 2021 58:50

    These two choreographers have pushed dance in bold new directions and brought it to a much wider audience. Both Twyla Tharp and Justin Peck are classically-trained dancers who have created works for the ballet, for Broadway, and for the movies. Twyla Tharp, who is about to turn 80, is an icon of the dance world. She has spent six decades challenging ideas about how the body can move. In 1973 she created what is considered the first "crossover" piece, combining ballet and modern dance, but she says she is not interested in categories; dance is dance. Justin Peck, at 33, is still in the early days of his career, but he is already choreographer-in-residence at the New York City Ballet and choreographer for the new film version of "West Side Story," directed by Steven Spielberg (coming out in December, 2021).  They both talk here about how their childhoods shaped their intense passion for movement and music, and they both describe beautifully how it feels when they are dancing.

    Best of - Mike (Coach K) Krzyzewski: Inspiring Greatness

    Play Episode Listen Later Jun 14, 2021 28:37

    Coach K, as Mike Krzyzewski is best known, has had more wins than any other men's basketball coach in the NCAA... by a long shot.  He's also the proud owner of three Olympic Gold Medals, from his time caching the  USA Men's National Team. Well, Coach K has announced that he is retiring, after four decades with the Duke University Blue Devils. And so we are revisiting this episode, which originally ran in 2015. Coach K's began developing his unbeatable recipe for leadership and inspiration when he was a kid, growing up in a working class part of Chicago. There were no little leagues in his neighborhood, so whenever groups of kids gathered on the basketball courts, he says, “somebody had to organize it, and it was always me."  

    Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson: The Quest for Humankind

    Play Episode Listen Later May 31, 2021 59:58

    What makes us human? And how did we get here? It's only human to want to know. These two renowned paleo-anthropologists have unlocked enormous gaps in our origin story. Each of them discovered some of the most significant prehistoric bones ever found in east Africa. For Donald Johanson it was Lucy. For Richard Leakey it was Turkana Boy. These skeletons helped explain how, why and when our ape ancestors evolved, grew bigger brains, and started walking on two legs. We hear the fascinating tales of their discoveries, but we also learn their personal origin stories, and what led each of them to try to solve some of humankind's greatest mysteries.

    Best of - Bill Russell: Giant of a Man

    Play Episode Listen Later May 17, 2021 34:58

    When the NBA playoffs come around each year, it's always worth revisiting the story of Bill Russell.  Russell was the force behind the most astonishing winning streak in the history of sports. His team, the Boston Celtics, won eleven NBA championships between 1957 and 1969, eight of those in a row. Russell changed the game of basketball, with his incredible speed, and his ability to block shots as no player had done before. When he took over as coach of the Celtics (while still playing on the team), he became the first African-American coach in the NBA. In this episode, Russell talks about his life in basketball, and he describes how the racism he confronted on and off the court, shaped him as a player, and led him to become a civil rights activist. This episode was originally published in April of 2017. 

    Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Robert Zemeckis: The Magic of Film

    Play Episode Listen Later May 3, 2021 59:56

    A stunning assemblage of filmmakers who shaped cinema in the late 20th century: Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro and Robert Zemeckis. Their personal journeys are inspiring, unlikely, and at times - painful. They tell the stories here of how they fell in love with the movies as children, and how they single-mindedly pursued transforming that love into a career, often at the expense of their personal lives. 

    Best Of - Willie Mays: For the Love of the Game

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 26, 2021 29:14

    Willie Mays was featured in one of our very first episodes. We're taking a second listen today, to celebrate the legendary center fielder's 90th birthday (on May 4th).Baseball fans may argue to this day about which was the best of Willie Mays’ many spectacular catches, but nearly all agree — he was one of the most versatile, virtuosic players of all time. In this episode, featuring an intimate interview with Mays recorded in 1996, the Hall-of-Famer talks about growing up in segregated Alabama, and winning over racist baseball fans soon after he became the first African-American player on his team. He recalls the day he got the call to move up to the majors, and describes in delightful terms how he never had to actually work at being a great athlete. He also talks about the catch he swears was better than “The Catch.” Hearing his voice, you’re reminded why Willie Mays was one of America’s most beloved baseball players, as well as one of its greatest.Theme Music: "Hope Shines Through" by Kara Square (www.thinkrootrecords.com)

    Carol Guzy: Visual Storyteller

    Play Episode Listen Later Apr 12, 2021 47:02

    There are only a handful of people who've won four Pulitzer Prizes. One of them is photo-journalist Carol Guzy. She has spent most of her life using her compassionate and creative eye to document the stories of people affected by violence, war and disaster in places such as Haiti, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Syria and Iraq.  But she's paid a steep personal price for doing her work. In this revealing episode, she talks candidly about the PTSD, depression and lung damage that she struggles with. She describes why it's all been worth it, and tells the stories behind some of her most iconic images. 

    Sal Khan: The World's Teacher

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 29, 2021 51:03

    Khan Academy may be the most revolutionary tool created for learning since the advent of pencil and paper. It is a critical educational equalizer - providing  1,000's of free online lessons in math, science, reading, economics and more, accessible to anyone, anywhere. During the pandemic school closures, it has become even more of a lifeline for millions of kids and teachers across the globe. Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, talks here about growing up in Louisiana as a first-generation American and the son of a struggling single mom. He tells the inspiring story of how he sought out academic excellence for himself, and eventually for the world.  And he describes how the idea for Khan Academy was unlocked when he began tutoring his younger cousins in math, long distance, but eventually landed him in a meeting with Bill Gates.   

    Larry Ellison and Ted Turner: Prophets of Innovation

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 15, 2021 59:56

    One of these tycoons changed the way businesses collect and use data.  The other transformed television and created the 24 hour news cycle. One was born the son of a successful businessman.  The other was born the son of a single teen mother, who gave him up for adoption.  One became a liberal activist and philanthropist. The other became a backer of conservative political candidates. One made billions. One made tens of billions.  But what connects Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, and Ted Turner, founder of CNN, share, is a competitive drive and an ability to see opportunity, where others see only pitfalls.  Both men talk here about their journeys to mega-success in business, and in sailboat racing too!  

    John Mather, Saul Perlmutter and Adam Riess: Masters of the Universe

    Play Episode Listen Later Mar 1, 2021 56:30

    Much of what we know about the universe, we've learned in the past 25 years. These three astrophysicists, all Nobel laureates, were key to unlocking some of its greatest mysteries, including that the universe is expanding at an ever-faster rate. (For decades, scientists were certain it was slowing down.)  Now they are poised to help us learn a whole lot more... starting this year, with the launch of the James Webb telescope.  John Mather, Adam Reiss and Saul Perlmutter talk here about what drew them to study the cosmos, and explain in ways we can all understand, what the universe has to teach us. 

    Audra McDonald: Trusting Your Own Power

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 15, 2021 45:37

    From the time she was nine years old, she knew she wanted to be on Broadway, but Audra McDonald has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. She has earned six Tony Awards, more than any other actor. She stars in movies and television shows and operas. She tours as a singer, and has a recording career.  She may be the most versatile performer of her generation. But McDonald has had her struggles. She talks here about her incredible career, and about she's always carved a path forward by choosing the projects that scare her the most. 

    Best of - August Wilson and Lloyd Richards: The Voice of Genius

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 8, 2021 42:45

    In the past few weeks, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring playwright August Wilson, and Netflix released a film version of Wilson's celebrated play, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."  It stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, in his final role.  That is why we were inspired to revisit this episode, which originally posted in 2017. It tells the story of two giants of American theater: Wilson, and his longtime collaborator, director Lloyd Richards. Together they brought many award-winning plays to Broadway - not only "Ma Rainey," but also "Fences," "The Piano Lesson" and others.  Wilson started out as a poet, but he turned to writing plays to bring stories of African-American life to the stage.  It was Lloyd Richards who recognized his talent and helped him shape it. Richards was already an icon in the theater world, for directing "A Raisin in the Sun." In this episode you'll hear him tell the story behind that ground-breaking production, and  you'll  hear both these theater legends describe how they came to meet and have one of the most successful artistic collaborations in history.

    Larry King: The King of Talk

    Play Episode Listen Later Feb 1, 2021 40:18

    No one could shmooze quite like Larry King. He turned it into an art, and turned himself into a legendary broadcaster.  He often didn't prepare for his interviews (more than 50,000 over the course of his career), instead engaging in curious, casual conversation that got his guests telling stories. But here you get to hear his stories... hilarious stories about growing up in Brooklyn, and about his earliest days breaking into radio and television.  

    Best of - Hank Aaron: Field of Dreams

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 23, 2021 46:21

    Babe Ruth's home run record held for almost four decades.  But then Hank Aaron came along and smashed it.  On the way to making baseball history, Aaron persevered through poverty, segregation, racism, and threats on his life.  He talks here about joining the Negro Leagues, about playing through a period of transformation in America, and about helping to change the world by doing what he did best - swinging that bat. Mr. Aaron died on Friday, at the age of 86. This episode was originally posted in July of 2019. We are replaying it in his honor.  

    Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam: Truth Seekers

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 18, 2021 57:09

    These two brave reporters risked their lives and their reputations during the war in Vietnam, to reveal the truth to the American people about what was happening there. Both describe here - how and when they realized the United States government was lying about the causes and the scope of the war.  And both eloquently explain their views on the role of the journalist as a witness and an adversary of government.  Neil Sheehan, who died earlier this month, also talks about his role in exposing the Pentagon Papers in the pages of the New York Times. And he details why he was driven to spend over 13 years writing a definitive history of the war, called "A Bright Shining Lie," which won the Pulitzer Prize.  Mr. Halberstam, who won the Pulitzer during the war, went on to write one of the other most important accounts of U.S. involvement in Vietnam: "The Best and the Brightest."

    Best of - Benazir Bhutto: Paying the Ultimate Price

    Play Episode Listen Later Jan 11, 2021 30:47

    Most Americans simply could not believe their eyes this week, when a violent mob staged an insurrection in the US Capitol. It was the kind of thing that happens in other countries - where the transfer of power isn't peaceful, and where democracy does not hold. Well that reminded us of one of our first episodes, featuring Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.  Bhutto descended from a political dynasty. Her father was ousted as prime minister, and killed in a coup - in 1977. She survived a coup attempt years later, when she became prime minister. In the end, she paid the ultimate price for her belief in democracy and human rights. Seven years after this interview, she was assassinated, as she campaigned for her third term as prime minister.   We certainly don’t mean to overstate comparisons between the United States and Pakistan, or any other country.  But we are re-posting this episode from 2015, as a reminder of what we have, and what we have to lose.  

    Trevor Nunn: A Love Letter to Theater

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 28, 2020 59:58

    He's one of the greatest all-time directors of Shakespeare, and has directed every one of the Bard's plays. But he's also directed 34  shows on Broadway, including "Cats" and "Les Miserables", and more yet on London's West End.  Trevor Nunn has been the Artistic Director of both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the National Theatre. And at 80, this British cultural icon of the theater is still going strong.  He talks here about his mysterious infatuation with theater at a very early age, in a working class family where there were no books. He pays tribute to a teacher who changed his life. And he waxes oh-so-passionately about Shakespeare and the power of theater. Oh, and he also talks about how it is he came to write the lyrics of "Memory", one of the most famous songs ever from a musical! 

    Judy Collins: Amazing Grace

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 14, 2020 55:27

    There's no mistaking Judy Collins' voice. She sang us through the 1960's and '70's, and hasn't stopped since. Today at 81, her voice is still strong and gorgeous. It reveals no signs of the struggles she has survived: depression, alcoholism, polio, tuberculosis, threatening injuries to her vocal chords and hands, and the suicide of her son. In this interview she talks frankly about how she carried on through these tragedies, and she eloquently describes how she knows when a song is right for her.  

    Shelby Foote, Arthur Golden and Carol Shields: Literary Pursuits

    Play Episode Listen Later Dec 1, 2020 59:36

    Three remarkable novelists, from very different backgrounds, peel back the curtain on how they write, why they write, and what they write.  Arthur Golden is the author of Memoirs of a Geisha, the only book he's written, and a longtime bestseller. He describes why he rewrote the book three times before he got it right, and explains how he successfully gave voice to a character so unlike himself.  Carol Shields is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Stone Diaries, and many other novels and plays. She talks about why she chose to write almost exclusively about the domestic lives of ordinary women, illuminating their struggles and triumphs.  And Shelby Foote is the noted author of novels about the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, including Shiloh.  He became best-known for his three volume history of the Civil War, and his appearance throughout Ken Burns' documentary on the same subject, but he always considered himself a novelist first and foremost. He talks here about his tumultuous life in the Mississippi Delta, and how adversity shaped him as a writer. 

    Wayne Thiebaud and Fritz Scholder: Palette of American Life

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 14, 2020 48:40

    In celebration of painter Wayne Thiebaud's 100th birthday, we feature a conversation with the artist and with one of his most renowned students, Fritz Scholder. Thiebaud's paintings of pies, cupcakes, donuts, pinball machines and bowties - are some of the most vivid and well-known in American art.  His San Francisco cityscapes are also rich in color and enchanting.  Scholder is best known for his unconventional portraits of Native Americans, which represented them in their full humanity, and led to the "New American Indian Art Movement."   

    Willie Brown: The Political Life

    Play Episode Listen Later Nov 2, 2020 59:43

    No one could work a room like Willie Brown. He was the consummate politician and public servant, and a true American original. He started life in a small, segregated Texas town, worked as a shoeshine boy and a janitor, but went on to dominate California politics for more than 40 years -- as Speaker of the State Assembly and as two-term mayor of San Francisco (the city's first black mayor). He was a wheeler and dealer, and incredibly effective at getting things done, often with the support of Republican colleagues across the aisle. He analyzes the current state of affairs as he sees them, in California and in the nation.  He describes how he ended up dating Kamala Harris years ago, and how he ended up with a small role in The Godfather: Part III. Finally, he admits to an addiction to the finest Italian suits.

    David McCullough, Stephen Ambrose and David Herbert Donald: Time Travelers

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 19, 2020 52:22

    The best-known biographies of Presidents Lincoln, Adams, Eisenhower, Truman, Nixon were written by the three great historians featured here. They talk about their subjects as if they had gone back in time and arrived back, breathless, with stories to share about the people they met.  Each one explains the how he discovered that history would be his life's work. For David Herbert Donald and Stephen Ambrose, the spark came from a college professor. For David McCullough, it was the desire to learn about an episode in American history he could find no book about.  It's great listening, as we head into the homestretch of what's predicted to be an historic U.S. presidential election! 

    Best of - Louise Glück: Revenge Against Circumstance

    Play Episode Listen Later Oct 9, 2020 43:16

    Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature, uses simple, unsentimental language in her poems to evoke overwhelming emotions. That rare combination is what has distinguished her as one of America's greatest living poets for over half a century. In addition to the Nobel Prize, she has also been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and is former Poet Laureate of the United States. In this episode, Glück (pronounced glick) digs into the torment and uncertainty that has hounded her throughout her writing life. She talks about how teaching poetry, which she feared would diminish her art, instead allowed it to flourish. And she describes her obsessive desire to hear music in her ears, and language in her head. This episode originally aired in July, 2017. *The excerpt of Don Giovanni is from a Warner Classics recording, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, with Eberhard Wachter and Joan Sutherland.

    Sandra Day O’Connor, Erma Bombeck and Hilary Swank: The Power Within

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 28, 2020 38:06

    What do the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, a comedic newspaper columnist and an Academy Award-winning actress have in common? On the face of it, not much. But these three trailblazing women, all from humble backgrounds, reflect here on the grit and determination that led them to create their own destinies, defying any rational probability of success. And each one talks about how her personal journey was shaped by generational experiences and constraints. 

    Best of - Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Justice For All

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 19, 2020 57:20

    In tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has died at the age of 87, we are re-posting this episode. It originally aired in September of 2016. Justice Ginsburg tells the very personal story here of her lifelong pursuit of justice and equality for women. Her tale includes trips to the library with her mother, a sixty year romance with Marty Ginsburg, her struggles to become a lawyer in a field inhospitable to women, her surprising friendship with Justice Scalia, and even her days as an aspiring baton twirler! The interview was conducted by NPR's Nina Totenberg, and explores some of the most important cases Ginsburg handled - as a lawyer and as a Justice - that helped transform the legal landscape for women and for all of America. 

    Cal Ripken Jr.: The Iron Man

    Play Episode Listen Later Sep 14, 2020 46:50

    Show up. Be there for your team. Play your best. These are the values that Cal Ripken Jr. embodied - every single day of his career.  His commitment to baseball was beyond compare. Ripken holds the record for the most consecutive games played in professional baseball: 2,632. He famously surpassed Lou Gehrig's long-standing record of  2130 games, 25 years ago this month, and then he just kept on going.  Ripken reminisces here about his proud life as a Baltimore Oriole, and he talks about the important lessons he learned that we can all apply to our own lives, on or off the field. 

    Joyce Carol Oates and Gore Vidal: Words Become Me

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 31, 2020 47:23

    This is a story about two of the greatest and most prolific writers in post-WWII America, who grew up in dramatically different circumstances.  Joyce Carol Oates was a hardworking farm girl from a small rural town. Gore Vidal was born into an elite political family. She is earnest, introspective & soft-spoken. He was supremely confident, sharp-tongued & provocative. Her novels (including Them, We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde) are often about families and their struggles. His novels (including Myra Breckinridge, Burr, Lincoln) were more commonly about historical figures. Both were recognized with a National Book Award. They talk here about their lives and their approaches to literature. The contrasts are stunning! 

    John Hume and David Trimble: A Vision of Peace

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 17, 2020 49:12

    These two remarkable men, from opposite sides of the 30-year "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, bravely reached across the divide and waged peace. They were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.  John Hume, who died in August, 2020, was a Catholic civil rights and political leader. In a poll several years ago, he was voted the greatest person in Irish history.  David Trimble was the leader of  the Protestant pro-British Ulster Unionist Party.   They talk here about the underpinnings of the brutal fighting that tore Northern Ireland apart, and they explain how and why they were able to negotiate a peace deal and begin the healing. They offer some important lessons to the rest of the world.  

    Best of - Olivia de Havilland: The Last Belle of Cinema

    Play Episode Listen Later Aug 10, 2020 45:46

    Olivia de Havilland, who just passed away at the age of 104, was the last of the Hollywood's leading ladies from the Golden Age.  She is best known for portraying Melanie Hamilton in "Gone With The Wind" (and admit it: you liked Melanie better than Scarlett, right?), but she had starring roles in dozens of films during the 1930's, 40's and 50's. This "best of" episode, which originally posted in June of 2016,  features an extensive conversation with Ms. de Havilland about the early days of the American film industry. She explains how the studio system confined her to the role of the ingenue, and how she eventually broke out of it to play some of the more complex and fascinating women on the silver screen -- including in two films that won her Academy Awards for Best Actress: "To Each His Own" and "The Heiress".

    Pitbull (Armando Christian Pérez): I’m Possible

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 27, 2020 57:08

    He grew up on the tough streets of Miami in the 1980s, dealing drugs and learning how to survive.  But this first generation Cuban-American took the stage name Pitbull, and became a wildly successful rapper and music producer, who has put out dance, pop & latin hits for the past twenty years. He calls himself a hustler, and talks here about how hard work and determination have been more important to his story than talent.  And he describes the charter schools he helped start, to provide a better chance for kids low-income kids who face the same kind of challenges in life that he did.  

    Best of - John Lewis: The Spirit of History

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 19, 2020 49:27

    In honor of Congressman John Lewis, who died of pancreatic cancer on July 17th, we are re-posting this episode. It was originally published in January, 2020.  Lewis spent his whole life trying to get our nation to live up to its own ideals. He maintained faith and optimism about the future, and was inspired by the new generation of activists for racial justice. He was the son of a sharecropper, and tells the story here of how he grew up to become a legendary leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a 17-term Congressman from the state of Georgia. He describes his political and spiritual awakenings, and recounts how he learned to live fearlessly and non-violently, despite the many beatings and arrests he endured -- at lunch counter sit-ins and during the march from Selma to Montgomery.  You'll hear archival sound from those events as well, and an excerpt of John Lewis speaking at the March on Washington when he was just 23 years old.  

    Ron Howard: Imagine Success

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 13, 2020 40:11

    He has had one of the longest, most celebrated and careers in Hollywood history, and it's still on overdrive. As a director, Ron Howard has worked in almost every genre. His films include Solo: A Star Wars Story, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Far and Away, Splash, and Cocoon. As an actor, he made his screen debut before the age of two, and then skyrocketed to fame at five, playing Opie on the Andy Griffith Show. As a teenager, he starred in  the movie American Graffiti and the television show Happy Days, and then transitioned to directing, where he's made his mark ever since.  Ron Howard explains here how and why he made the shift. He talks about embracing criticism, and he explains why he approaches his work as a collaborator rather than a lone wolf.   OPEN SEQUENCE Opie wasn’t actually the beginning for Ron Howard. Before he was even two years old, he made his Hollywood debut - as a crying baby, in the 1956 movie “Frontier Woman.” And at the age of 5 – he spoke his first lines onscreen, in a film called The Journey. The Journey And the screen credits have rolled ever since. For 62 years, pretty much straight.

    Best of - Maya Angelou: Righteousness and Love

    Play Episode Listen Later Jul 6, 2020 35:11

    Maya Angelou took the harshest experiences in her life and turned them into words of triumph, justice and hope. Her memoirs and her poems told of her survival, and uplifted people around the world. Her first book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," is a classic of American literature. Angelou's voice and the rhythm of her speech were absolutely unique. In this episode, which originally ran in December of 2016, you'll be reminded why she was one of the most inspiring figures of the past century, and why her voice is missed today more than ever.

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