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 Libby Lewis Photography

Since 1994, the Seattle Arts & Lectures Writers in the Schools (WITS) program brings professional writers into classrooms to help student writers find their voices and hone their skills. 

Downtown Seattle taken from Dr. Jose Rizal Park
Flickr Photo/Dave Lichterman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/cyuYa3

It’s an exciting time to catch up on and get involved in envisioning the great public spaces that will help sustain our growing region. KUOW, The Seattle Public Library and Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development hosted this conversation with national and local experts to help the community at-large better understand the issues and opportunities we face. KUOW’s Posey Gruener moderated the discussion. The speakers include:

Courtesy of Larry Krackle

Last year around this time we presented a gathering of tales from a festival of storytelling at PowellsWood Garden, down in Federal Way, Washington. It was an ear-opening experience, not just for the occasional jet approaching Sea-Tac, but as a reminder of the power of well-told stories. 

Courtesy of Jenny Jimenez

Author Claire Dederer was 44-years-old and living a successful life — literary accomplishment, comfortable marriage, family and home — when something caught up to her. 

Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Yes, you were promised a jet pack. Your disappointment around that may still sting, or you may be more concerned about global warming, or a robot taking your job, or finding affordable housing. Or you might be reasonably concerned that the digital revolution will leave you somewhere on the global trash heap of history.

A new book will help you find out what’s happening now and next in technology and maybe how to stay ahead of the curve.

Floribert Mubalama speaks with Julia Donk about his experiences as an immigrant on  July 22, 2017 as part of KUOW's Ask An Immigrant event.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

Questions surrounding immigration are regular parts of the news cycle these days. We hear stories of immigrants being harassed, detained and deported. We hear stories of families separated.

Many of us may not have the opportunity to talk to immigrants about their experiences. KUOW created a space for those questions recently at an "Ask an Immigrant" event in Bellevue. 

KUOW’s "Ask a ___" events create a safe and respectful environment for people to explore each other's views. 

Mathematical physicist and educator Robbert Dijkgraaf on the importance of the 'pursuit of useless knowledge' in both the sciences and the humanities.
Courtesy of Andrea Kane/Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ USA

In 1939 the influential American education reformer Abraham Flexner published an essay in Harper’s Magazine titled “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.” In it he promoted the well-funded, free pursuit of scientific inquiry, arguing that great scientists were “driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.”

Arundhati Roy in 2017.
Flickr Photo/Chris Boland (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/www.chrisboland.com

When an acclaimed novelist publishes their first new work in 20 years, people take notice.

When the first book was Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things,” the interest is especially intense. She was awarded the esteemed Booker Prize for the best novel in the English language in 1997.

Roy’s new work is “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.” The novel concerns, as she suggests in the text itself, “the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.”

Courtesy of Paul Bongaarts

One of the truisms about living in the Great Northwest is that wherever you are, it doesn’t take long to get out into the mountains. Whether we’re from here or migrated here, we crow about the natural beauty and adventure that surround us.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Naomi Klein move past their shock at Trump's election at the Neptune Theatre
Courtesy of Debra Heesch

Journalist and author Naomi Klein is famous for her 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” The shock she explored there was the manipulation of international crisis situations to implement so-called neo-liberal, free market policies.

On a recent stop in Seattle, Klein considered another kind of shock. She read from her new book, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.”

Courtesy of The Hachette Book Group

It’s still a little hard to believe, but 17 years ago a comedian famous for his contributions to Saturday Night Live ran to become a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, and won, barely. At first it appeared he had lost, but after a recount and a protracted legal dispute, Senator Al Franken went to Washington. And not because he’s such a funny guy.

Left to right: Sage Cook, Christina Joo, Kristin Leong, Joy Williamson-Lott, Saraswati Noel, Jesse Hagopian, Sharonne Navas and Nathan Simoneaux at Town Hall Seattle
Courtesy of Kristin Leong

What value do we attribute to education? It is common to hear how it changes lives, promotes imagination and creativity and invites opportunity. It is often a social endeavor, and thus encourages the wide sharing of ideas and knowledge.

The founders of Washington state clearly valued the concept of education. Article IX of our Constitution states:

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

Courtesy of Joe Iano

If you love radio theatre you may find yourself seeking out the classics — online, on AM radio, or at your local library. There’s something about how those stories were told that still fascinates. They draw folks  into a reverie of imagination, suspense, drama and humor.

KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

Dr. Martin Luther King’s phrase “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” is often spoken of with a sense of solace in America. We tell ourselves that progress is being made and patience is necessary.

Twitter War vets Lindy West and Scaachi Koul at SPL
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

Seeing as there’s not much going on down here in the States, perhaps it’s a good time to check in with one of our neighbors to the north. Toronto-based author Scaachi Koul was in town recently for a chat with Seattle writer Lindy West.

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

The idea of getting up on stage may terrify most of us, but actor Jeffrey Tambor knew from a very young age that was exactly what he wanted to do.

As long as he can recall, he’s wanted to give people his autograph.

Bishop Scott Hayashi: 'Three men entered. One jumped behind the counter where I was standing, put a gun to my side and pulled the trigger. Pffft! It was that fast.'
Courtesy of Kathy Shorr

To say the least, the statistics surrounding gun violence in the United States are disturbing. On an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns. Seven of those are children.

For every person killed with guns, two more are injured.

Courtesy of Journeymen

Thirty-odd years ago Dr. Arne Rubinstein was a teenaged Australian embracing some risky behavior. Later on, he worked in emergency rooms where he saw more than enough of what happens when teenagers take risks.

Farmland near Ritzville, Washington.
Flickr Photo/John Westrock (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/GwCkwW

Ten years ago, University of Washington professor David Montgomery published his influential book “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.” One year later, he received a MacArthur Genius fellowship, and continued his research in geomorphology: “the branch of geology that is concerned with the structure, origin, and development of the topographical features of the earth's surface.”

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

Yes, poetry month is over. But how about some more poetry anyway?

We’ve collected readings from the Seattle Arts & Lectures poetry series over the last two months. You’ll hear the work of poets Ellen Bass, Ross Gay and Alice Notley. Each spoke at Seattle’s McCaw Hall.

Courtesy of Morgen Schuler Photography

Have you heard about Ignite Seattle? It’s a volunteer-powered event that started back in 2006.

The concept is simple: People, most of them not public speakers, go on stage in front of 700 or so other people to share part of their life for five minutes.

Ask a Trump voter: Six voters explain themselves

May 5, 2017
Erika, who does not support Trump, asks questions of Bob, who does.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

As Donald Trump's first 100 days as president came to an end in April, KUOW gathered Trump supporters and opponents together for an "Ask a Trump Supporter" event in Bellevue. The goal was to start a dialog across the political divide — and for deep blue Seattleites to understand what led some to vote for Trump.

Courtesy of Matthew Lipsen/Seattle University

In the newly-minted era of President Donald Trump, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee seems to be raring for a fight. He took a barrage of questions on a recent visit to Seattle University and seemed to relish the moment.

KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

Author Thomas Frank made his mark on the book world by taking Republicans to task for the state of the nation. Last year, well before Donald Trump’s presidential win, Frank shifted his gaze to the Democrats. He didn’t like what he saw there, either.

Courtesy of The World Affairs Council

The first 100 days of the Donald Trump era have come and gone. There’s been plenty to fathom, through 24-7 reporting and frequent tweets, but if you’re ready to take a deep breath and consider the big picture, here’s your chance.

Madhura Nirkhe at ACT Theatre
KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

The Storywallahs series provides a stage for Puget Sound residents with roots in India and South Asia to tell stories. This time around the theme concerned the question of belonging. In the era of "making America great again," these stories help illuminate what it means to be great in the first place. 

Courtesy of John Ulman

Since 2011, the people behind Sandbox Radio have been putting together live performances of the kind of variety show you don’t hear much these days. There’s comedy, drama, sound effects and music — all percolating up from the minds and talents of local artists and featured guests.

Courtesy of Dan Jackson

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson was elected in 2012 after a career path that included service on the King County Council, litigation for a major Seattle law firm, clerkships for federal judges, and a stint as a traveling chess master. In this talk, he tells the story of his fascination with chess and the behind-the-scenes drama of his challenge to President Donald Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.

Courtesy of Alan Alabastro

Every year the Citizen University conference takes place in Seattle. Civic-minded people from around the country gather to make connections, listen and share messages of challenge and progress. This year the theme was Reckoning and Repair in America.

Courtesy of Dave Hardwick

Civic Saturday is the brainchild of Eric Liu and Jená Cane, co-founders of the Seattle-based non-profit Citizen University. They call it the civic analog to church.

Like church, it brings people together but to ponder our civic lives. And like church, the gathering includes songs, readings of “scripture” taken from great American texts, silent reflection and a “sermon” given by Liu.

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