John O'Brien | KUOW News and Information

John O'Brien

Producer, Speakers Forum

Year started with KUOW: 2006

John O’Brien produces Speakers Forum at KUOW. He learned to love radio as a child waking up one summer morning to the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel.

As a teenager, he would drive the back roads of Indiana and Michigan late at night listening to vintage radio theater. The question of whether or not he had the legal right to drive then remains a mystery. Only The Shadow knows.

Inspired by a chance meeting with Noah Adams, he learned to make radio as an intern on KUOW’s The Conversation with Ross Reynolds.

John has been recording talks for Speakers Forum since 2007. Early on he learned Seattle is a Mecca for any touring speaker because Seattleites read so much, support a wide variety of venues and ask smart questions. He says that makes his job easy and always interesting.

John is a graduate of St. Johns College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ways to Connect

Courtesy of Red Hen Press

Several years ago, Seattle poet Tina Schumann was inspired to compile an anthology of memoir, essays and poems by children of immigrants in the United States. Her mother emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1942.

Schumann has said she really didn’t know exactly what she was doing, and was somewhat overwhelmed by the large number of contributions she received, but she persevered. The result is a work that reflects the many contradictions entailed in being and becoming an American.

Courtesy of David-Tulis

Americans eat a lot of chicken. The National Chicken Council reports per capita consumption of 91 pounds a year in 2016. Compare that to 28 pounds a year in 1960.

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

Seattle-based writer Ijeoma Oluo has been widely recognized for some time now as a person who speaks sometimes uncomfortable truths about racism in America. That recognition reached a crescendo in recent days with the release of her first book, “So You Want to Talk About Race.”

Courtesy of Josh Patterson

In a parallel universe, poets stand on street corners and recite for us. We stop what we’re doing and gather together with friends and strangers to listen. Then we pay them some tribute and go on with our days, moved and enriched in some way.

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones at UW's Kane Hall, January 30, 2018.
Courtesy of Emile Pitre

"Art is going to save us, right?" Choreographer Bill T. Jones opens his talk. He says it’s not a laugh line. His answer is sobering.

In the iconoclastic world of modern dance, Bill T. Jones has long searched for answers to questions like, “What is love? What is death? And what does art have to do with it?” He explores those themes in this talk “Analogy/Form: Finding Meaning in Confusing Times.”

Courtesy of Jamie Rand Imaging/Jamie Colman

The second annual Women’s March was celebrated in Seattle on January 20. Organizers say as many as 100,000 people attended. But those organizers had more in mind than a one-day march. They want to make a change.

KUOW photo/LIsa Wang

As of the 2010 Census, 80 percent of U.S. citizens lived in urban areas. Human beings are drawn to cities for work, culture, camaraderie and hipster coffee shops (among other things).

Every city starts somewhere. Some plug along, while others take off with growth most inhabitants never imagined. Seattle has been both types of city, from the home of the last person leaving turning out the lights, to construction-crane magnet.

Courtesy of Jamie Rand Imaging/Jamie Colman

Tens of thousands of people participated in the second annual Seattle Women’s March. The day started with a rally of fiery speeches to warm up participants on a chilly, rainy morning.

Courtesy of Carmen Maria Machado/Art Streiber

There have been so many momentous days recently. Today, for instance, women around the U.S. and the world (and their allies) are participating in the second annual Women’s March. Yesterday, Congress shut down the government due to differences over border security and immigration.

The Constitution of the United States in the rotunda of the National Archives, in Washington, DC.
Flickr Photo/MrTinDC (CC BY ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/7txMkC

The political climate in the United States is marked by ultra-partisanship. So it’s a good time to ask, how’s the Constitution holding up? A recent event brought together two people with a depth of political and jurisprudent experience to explore that question.

Author Ijeoma Oluo.
Courtesy of Seattle Colleges

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today, the United States celebrates the birth of the great non-violence activist and civil rights leader. The federal holiday was signed into law in 1983 by President Reagan, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed the holiday.

Daniel Ellsberg (left) and co-defendant Anthony Russo talk to news reporters outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles on Jan. 17, 1973, during the Pentagon Papers trial.
AP Photo/Staff

The acronym MAD stands for mutual assured destruction. The concept has been a cornerstone of U.S. military security policy since the creation of nuclear weapons. It's based on the theory that no super-power leader would start a nuclear war knowing Armageddon would be the result. To this day, that either helps you sleep at night or the opposite.

Journalist Maria Hinojosa at UW's Kane Hall
Courtesy of Emile Pitre

Maria Hinojosa and her team at Latino USA have been reporting on how Latinos and Hispanics experience and impact the United States since 1992. That ethnic group accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population growth from 2000 to 2014. The Pew Research Center predicts they will make up 24 percent of the population here by 2065.

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

And now for something maybe completely unexpected. Tom Hanks wrote a book. The prolific actor credits writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron with encouraging his writing years ago on the set of “Sleepless in Seattle.” He later wrote a piece about a friend in the film business and ran it by Ephron, asking “Is this a thing?” She said yes, with some qualifications, and Hanks took her advice to heart.

Courtesy of Lloyd Montgomery

As we begin another new year in these United States of America, it’s an opportune time to listen in to the creative voices of descendants of the original inhabitants of these lands.

FILE - In this July 28, 2016, file photo, Khizr Khan, father of fallen Army Capt. Humayun Khan and his wife Ghazala speak during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Khizr Khan is an American citizen of Pakistani descent. He is perhaps most famous for the fact that he carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his breast pocket and for a speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. 

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Looking back at a year that was tumultuous in so many ways, this talk by author Walter Isaacson stands out as something that has almost nothing to do with our modern day trials and tribulations. 

Courtesy of Jean Sherrard

For the past eleven years the crew of Town Hall Seattle’s "Short Stories Live" series has presented a celebration of storytelling they call "A Rogue’s Christmas."

Curator Jean Sherrard chooses seasonally-appropriate readings. It’s always a festive, thought-provoking and slightly devious gathering — just the thing to keep Christmas weird in Seattle.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a town hall meeting at Hillside Middle School in Manchester, New Hampshire on Jan. 22, 2016.
Flickr Photo/Gage Skidmore (CC BY SA 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/Cvop2D

There’s a rap against Hillary Rodham Clinton: that she’s cold, robotic. That was certainly not the persona she presented on her visit to Seattle this week. If Clinton were a robot, she’d be the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em variety, with a healthy dash of reflective and forward-thinking feminist, doting grandmother and super-sharp political analyst.

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

Writer Isabel Allende has cast a spell on her readers since at least 1982, when she published her first major work “The House of the Spirts.” Her fiction, noted for elements of magic realism, has struck a deep chord. She has sold nearly 70 million books.

Courtesy of Susan Fried

What’s a progressive citizenry to do? It’s been over a year since President Donald Trump was elected. Liberal Seattleites reacted to that event (they call it “the incident” here) in various ways.

The individuals you’ll hear in these talks switched careers, took a road trip to conservative Oregon, reflected on the balance between parenting and activism, sought ways to confront family divisions, and took up boxing.

Courtesy of Spelman College/J.D. Scott

In 1997 Dr. Beverly Tatum published her acclaimed book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.” The work explores an enduring American reluctance to acknowledge the realities of racial identity development and racism. For the last 20 years, it has served as a catalyst in efforts to address those realities.

Esther Perel and Dan Savage at the Egyptian Theatre
KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

It’s the holiday season, so oh what fun it is to offer you this moment in time when renowned sex advice columnist Dan Savage met renowned sex therapist Esther Perel for an extremely frank discussion of marriage and infidelity.

Keiko Green reads 'the garden at higo' at Ampersand Live
Courtesy of Forterra/Jen Au

Once a year Ampersand magazine hosts an evening of storytelling, poetry and performance that reflects upon the unique nature of life in the Northwest. The magazine comes under the umbrella of Forterra, an organization committed to making our lives here sustainable.

Courtesy of Penquin Press

Author and political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell was a teenager in 1968. He recalls the time in some detail. He was coming of age as someone drawn to politics and directly affected by the Vietnam War.

Courtesy of Heather Malcolm

It’s Thanksgiving week, and among the many things one might be thankful for, pie and whiskey could be high on your list. A group of writers led by Kate Lebo and Sam Ligon certainly thought so. They thought so much of that duo that they created the anthology “Pie & Whiskey: Writers under the Influence of Butter & Booze.”

Courtesy of Jon Shields

Do we teach civics anymore? Technically, yes, in the public school systems of all 50 states. We often call it government. But are these courses fulfilling the spirit of our country’s founding when it comes to civic responsibility? Thomas Jefferson had something like this in mind: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Courtesy of Workman Publishing

If you’re a regular listener to WNYC’s On The Media, you know that Brooke Gladstone is a force in journalism. You hear her commitment to accurate, nuanced reporting and analysis in everything that show does. She won’t accept any nonsense, even from her co-host, Bob Garfield.

Courtesy of Northeastern University-Seattle

The name Bill Ayers rings a bell for people of a certain age. He is one of the icons of '60s and '70s counterculture and anti-Vietnam War movements. As a young man he became a founder of the notorious leftist radical organization The Weather Underground.

One of the group's goals was to overthrow the U.S. government. They orchestrated a string of bombings of public offices. In 1970, three members were killed when a bomb they were building exploded. Ayers became a fugitive for a time after that incident.

David Neiwert and Knute Berger at University Lutheran Church
KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

Author David Neiwert would prefer to write books about whales at this point in his career.

Seriously. He’s done it. He says it’s much less stressful than writing about extremist groups.

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