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 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.

Speakers Forum

Apr 13, 2017

Readings, debates, lectures and so much more. Hear fascinating talks by authors, intellectuals, officials and regular folks with important stories recorded live all around Seattle.

Listen on the web or subscribe in Apple Podcasts

Courtesy of Mosaic Voices

Human beings have depended on mythology since the beginning of our existence. Myths told us how the world began, how to understand its trials and wonders, and how it might end.

Yet now, when many of us believe something is not true, we call it a myth. What happened?

Ask a Muslim participants at the New Holly Gathering Hall on April 2, 2017.
Courtesy of Baron Visuals

What if you lived in a place where people often looked at you with suspicion? How would you get past that — the stares, the mistrust, or worse? Given the chance, what would you want people to know about you?

KUOW has been hosting a series of “Ask a ___” events. The goal is to create a safe and respectful environment for people to explore each other's cultures. 

In this March 21, 2017 photo, Misty Copeland, first African-American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, appears at the Steps on Broadway dance school in New York.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Ballerina Misty Copeland started her dance training at the late age of 13. Nonetheless, she was soon recognized as a prodigy and rose quickly to opportunity and success. In 2015, she became the first African-American woman promoted to principal ballerina by American Ballet Theatre.

Courtesy Private Collection

There are many reasons to be thankful for the life and work of author Betty MacDonald.

If you have a love/hate relationship with chickens, her best-seller “The Egg and I” will satisfy both passions. If you have children in your life, her “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” series will likely delight and challenge them. And if you suffer from self-doubt her book about finding work in the Great Depression, “Anybody Can Do Anything,” may help.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Barron

What difference can a day make? For half of the world’s population who struggle with social, economic, and political inequity, a day honoring women may be only symbolic, but could be life changing.

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen at Seattle Public Library
KUOW photo/Sonya Harris

Before Viet Thanh Nguyen became the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the novel “The Sympathizers,” he was a 4-year-old boy uprooted from war-torn Vietnam and transported to a refugee camp in the United States.

Nguyen’s experience as a refugee marked his journey towards becoming an American in crucial ways. He describes the experience of being both a refugee and an American as being “split in two.”

Courtesy of Scott Baerst

In a recent double bill, journalist Matt Taibbi joined author and anti-poverty advocate Joel Berg to discuss what happened in our recent presidential election and what’s next. Their talks and conversation cover ample ground, from the realities of the campaign trail and our political system, to our tendency to blame politicians instead of taking personal responsibility.

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

There are many things to know about Roxane Gay. She grew up in Nebraska. Her family is of Haitian descent. She came to critical attention in 2014 for her best-selling collection of essays “Bad Feminist.” She teaches creative writing at Purdue University. She is the first black woman hired to write a Marvel Comics series, “Wakanda.” She kind of owns Twitter. But perhaps the most crucial thing you need to know about Roxane Gay is that she is awed by and in love with her craft, fiction writing especially, in difficult and delightful ways.

microphone podium
Flickr Photo/Tom Woodward (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/6LG5Lf

The term "gaslighting" comes from the 1944 film "Gaslight," about an abusive husband who secretly manipulates the lighting in his house in order to drive his wife mad. It has been used more recently to refer to a political phenomenon involving the dissemination of untruths to an extent that causes the public to doubt truth from falsehood.

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