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.

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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.

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

The investigation continues into January's shooting at the University of Washington during a speech by controversial writer Milo Yiannopoulos. One man was injured but as yet, no one has been charged.

Still, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce is defending her decision to allow the speech to happen. She spoke about it during a recent taping for the Seattle Channel's Civic Cocktail.

Courtesy of Lynette Hoy

Author Lori Tsugawa Whaley grew up in a rural, mostly white community disconnected from her Japanese heritage. She didn’t even realize there was something different about her until she faced teasing and prejudice in grade school. 

Courtesy of Chris Bennion

The Sandbox Radio troupe brings radio theatre to life with their always original, often surprising work. Our presentation of their “New And Improved?” episode features the following performances:

Courtesy of Angela Carlye

In 1963, John Lewis was 23 years old when he addressed a crowd of over 200,000 people at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Lewis was already a veteran of the civil rights movement. He had been a devoted anti-segregation and voting rights activist in college and was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders who dared to ride integrated buses into the segregated South. He had become the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

Hundreds of transgender people, their families and allies gathered at the University of Washington Tacoma Saturday Feb. 25.

The occasion was a rally against Washington State Initiative 1552. The measure would “override state and local prohibitions against gender-identity discrimination in certain public-accommodation facilities, require that public schools restrict access to some facilities based on sex at birth, and allow related lawsuits against schools.”

Professor Joy Williamson-Lott
Courtesy of The University of Washington

“Are you ready to go back in history?” Professor Joy Williamson-Lott asks that question early on in this talk. She’s encouraging the audience, exciting us, but also challenging us.

The history of public education in the United States, her area of focus, is rife with deeply troubling inequality and injustice.

Neon Sugar
FLICKR PHOTO/Adam Engelhart (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/fqv6q

A friend might try to talk you out of smoking cigarettes or your alcohol consumption, but would they criticize your sugar habit? What if they knew that not long ago scientists were paid to proclaim the dangers of fat when the facts pointed to sugar and carbohydrates?

Author Helen Macdonald at Benaroya Hall
Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

In her acclaimed memoir "H Is for Hawk," author Helen Macdonald reflects on the shock and depression she experienced at the unexpected death of her father. The two had a close bond, marked by their mutual fascination with nature.

Thrown by her loss and struggling with depression Macdonald, an experienced falconer, chose to train a notoriously difficult-to-handle raptor, a Northern Goshawk. She called her Mabel.

Photo courtesy of Greg Olsen

If you’ve been looking for a new Schoolhouse Rock episode on modern presidential power, without the musical and cartoon characteristics, look no further. The early days of the Trump administration are ripe with questions of the reach and limitations of the powers granted to the President of the United States.

This panel discussion among professors at the University of Washington School of Law clarifies many of those questions. 

Photo courtesy of Writers Resist

Authors around the country led a series of events recently called “Writers Resist: A Celebration of Free Speech.” Participants read from their own work or historic writings concerned with freedom, free speech and equality. There were nine such events in Washington State. In Seattle, the participants in order of appearance were:

KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

Ten days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration a group of Seattle-area artists and arts supporters came together to share experiences and build community. KUOW set aside a space for them to record personal messages. Their reflections express the conflict of the moment, marked by fear and hope, uncertainty and renewed determination.

Professor Pedro Noguera at the University of Washington.
Courtesy of Emile Pitre

Every three years the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), made up of the world’s richest countries, publishes an international student assessment. They test 15-year-olds for comprehension in reading, math and science.

One goal is to understand which countries have the most successful education programs and why. In 2015 the United States ranked 25 out of 72 countries. 

FLICKR PHOTO/Penn State (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/jbLpvD

Tim Wise is known for his commitment to exposing and countering racism. He grew up in Tennessee and went to college in New Orleans, where he became involved in efforts to oppose Ku Klux Clansman David Duke’s political aspirations. Dr. Cornel West referred to Wise as “a vanilla brother in the tradition of John Brown.”

Photo courtesy of Jose Guadalupe Martinez

The largest march in Seattle history took place on Saturday, January 21. Listen here to the speeches you may have missed at the Seattle Womxn’s March, because over 100,000 demonstrators can’t fit in Judkins Park.

KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

Some people say that sports and politics don’t mix. Sports and politics writer Dave Zirin and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett got together recently to test that theory. Mix it up they did. The two had a lot to talk about, and not just concerning sports.

KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

Dr. Sylvia Tara has struggled with weight issues for much of her life. After gaining a substantial amount of weight following the birth of her children, she committed herself to finding a way to lose the pounds and keep them off. That decision led her to an exploration of what exactly fat is, how it may harm us and how it actually helps us survive. 

Larry Hubbel, Joni Balter, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at Seattle University
Courtesy of Sophie Egan

Back in 2005 Seattle announced a 10-year plan to end homelessness. That plan failed.

The One Night Count of unsheltered homeless people in King County made in 2006 totaled 1,946. That total increased to 4,505 in 2016.

What to do? Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray and San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee grapple with that question on a daily basis. Both are keenly aware of the reality of homelessness, and serious about finding solutions. 

Benjamin Hunter at Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Courtesy of Seattle Colleges

For his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time.”

Jessica Bennett at Town Hall Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

Author Jessica Bennett and a group of fellow female professionals were facing man’s world issues, like male colleagues taking credit for their ideas and work. The women started a monthly meeting to share stories and look for solutions. Their gatherings explored workplace discrimination and social research on how to combat it. 

White House 2014 World AIDS Day
Flickr Photo/Ted Eytan (CC BY 2.0)/http://bit.ly/2hT2Rem

Author David France faced the fear and reality of AIDS first hand as a gay man, an investigative reporter and a New Yorker. He was there when word of the illness spread through the gay community and was largely ignored by politicians, religious figures and the press.

He writes about that dark history and how a small group of activists forged a way out in “How To Survive A Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS.”

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