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

KUOW Photo: Lisa Wang

Last year KUOW teamed up with Seattle Asian Art Museum, Pratidhwani, South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) and Tasveer to launch the Storywallahs series. Theses events provide a stage for storytelling on a theme.

This time around the stories concern first days: What was it like to arrive in the United States for the first time? This gathering of reflections will surprise and inspire you.

Flickr Photo: Marilylle Soveran

The writer Henry Fielding defined a rogue as a rich man without charity. Merriam-Webster describes a dishonest, worthless or mischievous person. This year, Seattle stage rogues Jean Sherrard, Paul Dorpat, Khanh Doan and Kurt Beattie shared their talents for the annual “Short Stories Live: A Rogue’s Christmas.”

Richard Ziman, Pilar O’Connell and Bhama Roget in Wayne Rawley’s “Christmastown”
Courtesy of Chris Bennion

When it comes to favorite things, Sandbox Radio should be high on any radio theatre lover’s list. The troupe brings talent and infectious enthusiasm to their one-night-only shows. This winter holiday episode, with musical help from the Cascadia Big Band, features the following performances:

  • "Christmastown” adapted from the stage play by Wayne Rawley
  • "Festival Of Lights - A Presentation" by Juliet Waller Pruzan
  • "King John's Christmas" by A. A. Milne, adapted by Richard Ziman

Senator Bernie Sanders at University Temple United Methodist Church
KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

It may come as no surprise to you to hear that Bernie Sanders is not done. He was on the post-campaign trail last week, with a stop in Seattle to promote his new book, “Our Revolution: A Future To Believe In.”

Even after a bruising election season and outcome, Sanders says the majority of Americans agree with his vision of progress. He challenges us to “think big” about progressive change.

Marcie Sillman and Virginia Wright at SAM on Dec. 1, 2016.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

Seattle’s reputation as a vibrant, progressive, culturally relevant city is the product of decades of vision and growth. Many Seattleites participated in building that progress, but no one has done more to develop the arts culture of this city than Virginia Wright. Over the last 60 years of her adult life, Wright has helped transform what was once a cultural outlier into a world-class art destination.

Phillip Deng at Ignite Seattle 31
Photo courtesy of Randy Stewart

The Ignite series brings locals together to share ideas, inspirations and understanding in a rapid-fire, accessible format. The program was invented here, and you’re invited.

Ignite Seattle 31 took place on November 17 at Town Hall Seattle. Sonya Harris recorded the talks. Scott Berkun was the emcee. 

Poet Rachel Zucker
Courtesy of Rachel Zucker

Several years ago, poet Rachel Zucker was asked to write a lecture about poetry. That process led her, in part, to question what it is that poets do — and why.

She recently presented that lecture, “The Poetics of Wrongness,” as part of the Seattle Arts & Lectures Poetry Series.

KUOW's Ashley Ahearn and mountaineer Dave Hahn speak at Eddie Bauer store in University Village on October 28, 2016.
KUOW Photo

Professional mountain climber and guide Dave Hahn has summited Mount Everest 15 times — more than any non-Sherpa climber. He has a foothold in the Northwest as well, having climbed Mt. Rainier over 270 times.

KUOW environment reporter Ashley Ahearn wanted to learn more about Hahn’s life, how mountaineering has changed over the years, and what motivates him to keep climbing. Hahn spoke with  her at the Eddie Bauer store in University Village on October 28. Sonya Harris recorded their talk.

Photo of Melissa Ponder

Ampersand Magazine is a production of Forterra, a Seattle-based conservation and community-building organization. Ampersand Live is a gathering of poets, artists and storytellers keen on preserving and celebrating the fragile bond between society and nature in the Pacific Northwest. 

Activist Ralph Nader
Flickr Photo/Sage Ross (CC BY SA 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/5ryFHB

In this talk, activist Ralph Nader focuses on why we fail to make political progress, even when a majority of citizens passionately support an issue. He argues that left-right coalitions focused on Congress are one key to breaking gridlock in Washington, D.C. He calls on Seattleites especially to gear their tech savvy towards political participation.

People take part in a 'Black Lives Matter' demonstration.
Flickr Photo/Joe Brusky (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/pscnno

You may have heard the term “white fragility.” Dr. Robin DiAngelo coined the expression to describe the defensive positions white people often take when confronted with the facts of racism.

This talk details the realities of our racist society today and points towards possible remedies.

Social workers Bradly Smith and Jackie St. Louis check in on Tonja Warner, who is homeless. Smith and St. Louis walk with cops on their beat and connect people they encounter with services.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bill Radke speaks with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray about the state of emergency on homelessness and what we've done in the year since it was declared.

Poet Lucia Perillo
Courtesy of James Rudy

The accolade "local treasure" is not easily awarded. Poet Lucia Perillo earned that and many other awards, including a MacArthur Genius Grant. 

Perillo died in Olympia on October 16 at the age of 58. She had lived with multiple sclerosis since her diagnosis in 1988.

UW Professor Megan Ming Francis at Kane Hall on October 12, 2016.`
Courtesy of Emile Pitre

As we come to the end of a very long presidential election cycle, what can we do to remedy our legacy of racial injustice and move forward? University of Washington professor Megan Ming Francis searches for answers to that question in her talk “Race and Violence in American Politics.”

Maria Semple at Town Hall Seattle
KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

If you don’t already love Maria Semple’s Seattle-brewed writing, her new work may pull you in. Just one day in the life of protagonist Eleanor Flood will likely leave you wanting more.

(Clockwise from top left) Claire Miccio and baby John, Kris 'Sonics Guy' Brannon, Maliah Washington, Jessica Salvador, Lance Forshay and Andrew Scudder, and Paul Constantine.
KUOW Photos/John O'Brien

A question arose this election season, as it does periodically: How well do U.S. citizens and candidates for public office understand and value the contents of the Constitution of the United States?

Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik
Wikimedia Photo/Kathleen King (CC BY-SA 3.0) http://bit.ly/2miDSmR

The concept of "parenting" has only been around since the 1960s. Child development researcher Alison Gopnik believes our modern views on child raising do a disservice to children’s ability to thrive.

Gopnik is a professor of psychology and philosophy at University of California, Berkeley, where she directs the Gopnik Cognitive Development Lab. Her new book is “The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.”

She spoke at Town Hall Seattle on October 3. Sonya Harris recorded her talk.

Sandbox Radio actors Mik Kuhlman, Rebecca Olson, Keith Dahlgren and Eric Ray Anderson.
Courtesy of John Ulman

Sandbox Radio is back on Speakers Forum! Our presentation of their latest work, "Gold Rush,"  includes the following performances: 

Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Flickr Photo/Jean-Marc (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/ggWBMX

From Romulus and Remus to its infamous fall, the once “small, ordinary” town of Rome came to define empire and change the world forever. British scholar, television host and author Mary Beard has made mining the history of that empire her central work.

Beard is a classics professor at Cambridge and the author of “SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.” 

Alaina Caldwell, Gerald Elliott, Jodi White, Alissa Wehrman, Eula Scott Bynoe, Matthew Brasco and Jasmine Jackson.
KUOW Photo/Brie Ripley

It’s all over the news and social media: A person of color is shot and killed by police, there’s a protest, and an investigation, then another shooting. What does this seemingly endless cycle say about racism in America? 

This summer, Speakers Forum recorded an event called “Black Lives in America: Healing and Moving Forward.” It was hosted by the crew at HellaBlackHellaSeattle, a podcast focused on creating community for people of color in Seattle. 

Courtesy of Seattle University/Yosef Chaim Kalinko

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is known for his record-setting feats in the NBA and as a best-selling author and cultural critic. His new book is “Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality beyond Black and White.”

He spoke with journalist Art Thiel on September 8 at Seattle University. Jennie Cecil Moore recorded their talk.

Labor journalist Sarah Jaffe
Courtesy of Julieta Salgado

When it comes to the future of good jobs and a contented workforce in the United States, the outlook is tenuous at best. Workers left in the wake of off-shoring, financial crises and game-changing robotic technology developments know that all too well.

Journalist Sarah Jaffe says community movements are a key to better outcomes. “For the people taking part in them it is not a question of left or right, but of the powerless against the powerful.”

Writer Charles Mudede at Smoke Farm.
Courtesy of Jason Evans

The 8th Smoke Farm Symposium featured talks by professor Tanya Erzen, writer and filmmaker Charles Mudede, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Ken Williford and historian and MacArthur Fellow Mott Greene.

Topics included prison reform by Erzen, global migration and citizenship by Mudede, the search for microscopic life on Mars by Williford and science history by Greene.

Zaki Barak Hamid, Sam Reed, Matthew Manweller, Ross Reynolds, Diane Tebelius and Slade Gordon.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

He came. He saw. He won the nomination. What does Donald Trump’s unique form of Republicanism mean for the party faithful in our state?

KUOW and Humanities Washington invited a panel of GOP standard bearers to discuss that and other long-range questions as this election cycle draws to a close. Is Trumpism a blip on the radar for the party of Lincoln, or the way of the future?

Listen to the panel discussion below.

Grizzly sow and cubs near Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone National Park.
Flickr Photo/Yellowstone National Park (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/sTZsC2

In 1972 a young man named Harry Walker was killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. The subsequent wrongful death trial focused on whether the National Park Service had done enough to prevent human interaction with bears.

The story puzzled and fascinated former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith. In it he found myriad questions of what it means to manage nature.

Sharon Ballantine at University Book Store
Photo Courtesy of Monica Valenzuela

Sharon Ballantine is a life and parenting coach and the author of “The Art of Blissful Parenting.” In it she writes about the ways parents can build rich, lasting, meaningful relationships with their children.

But it’s not all about the bliss. One of her suggestions: give yourself, not just your child, a time-out when things get stressful. Her reading and talk offers helpful tools and suggestions for any parent.

Author and illustrator Elisha Cooper
Courtesy of Elisha Cooper/Christopher Smith

In his new memoir, “Falling: A Daughter, A Father, and a Journey Back,"  author Elisha Cooper recalls how he and his family faced and survived his daughter Zoe’s cancer.

The act of reflection, some years after the events, is cathartic for Cooper. The result is the chronicle of a life-changing period, marked by terrifying uncertainty and resilience. He tells the story with humor and a palpable sense of awe. 

kids at play
Flickr Photo/guilherme jofili (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/8Gw7aW

Dr. Peter Gray is an evolutionary research psychologist. He focuses on our education system and how children learn naturally. And that’s the rub: Gray points to the many ways our schools impede natural learning, with disturbing consequences.

His research and writing shed light on how the creativity and skills we establish in free play influence learning.

Bust of Chief Si'ahl in Seattle's Pioneer Square.
Flickr Photo/Brian Glanz (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/DwkeT

The first thing to know about Chief Seattle is how he pronounced his name.

Skagit elder Vi Hilbert pronounced it for HistoryLink (18 seconds):

Chief Seattle, our city’s namesake, is a bit of an enigma.

He was born in 1786, after native populations were decimated by small pox and other diseases brought in by white settlers.

Donald Davis at PowellsWood
Courtesy of Larry Krackle

Did you love listening to stories when you were a kid? Of course you did. The art of a good tale, well told, has the power to draw us in, transport, transfix and enchant us. It’s a wonder we don’t listen more than we do. Here’s a chance to dive back in.

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