Terry Gross | KUER 90.1

Terry Gross

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gross, who has been host of Fresh Air since 1975, when it was broadcast only in greater Philadelphia, isn't afraid to ask tough questions. But Gross sets an atmosphere in which her guests volunteer the answers rather than surrendering them. What often puts those guests at ease is Gross' understanding of their work. "Anyone who agrees to be interviewed must decide where to draw the line between what is public and what is private," Gross says. "But the line can shift, depending on who is asking the questions. What puts someone on guard isn't necessarily the fear of being 'found out.' It sometimes is just the fear of being misunderstood."

Gross began her radio career in 1973 at public radio station WBFO in Buffalo, New York. There she hosted and produced several arts, women's and public affairs programs, including This Is Radio, a live, three-hour magazine program that aired daily. Two years later, she joined the staff of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia as producer and host of Fresh Air, then a local, daily interview and music program. In 1985, WHYY-FM launched a weekly half-hour edition of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which was distributed nationally by NPR. Since 1987, a daily, one-hour national edition of Fresh Air has been produced by WHYY-FM. The program is broadcast on 566 stations and became the first non-drive time show in public radio history to reach more than five million listeners each week in fall 2008, a presidential election season. In fall 2011, Fresh Air reached 4.4 million listeners a week.

Fresh Air with Terry Gross has received a number of awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 1994 for its "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insight." America Women in Radio and Television presented Gross with a Gracie Award in 1999 in the category of National Network Radio Personality. In 2003, she received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award for her "outstanding contributions to public radio" and for advancing the "growth, quality and positive image of radio." In 2007, Gross received the Literarian Award. In 2011, she received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community.

Gross is the author of All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians and Artists, published by Hyperion in 2004.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gross received a bachelor's degree in English and M.Ed. in communications from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Gross was recognized with the Columbia Journalism Award from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2008 and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Princeton University in 2002. She received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1993 and Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007, both from SUNY–Buffalo. She also received a Doctor of Letters from Haverford College in 1998 and Honorary Doctor of Letters from Drexel University in 1989.

As the chief official White House photographer for President Barack Obama, Pete Souza had top security clearance and sat in on most meetings and major events with the president.

"I was there all the time," he says. "I wasn't talking to [Obama] all the time, but I was always in every meeting and pretty much every situation that he had as president."

The chicken for sale at your local grocery store isn't like the chicken your grandparents used to eat. They're bigger and more "breasty," says public health journalist Maryn McKenna — and that's by design.

"In the United States, we much prefer to eat white meat, and so we have bred chickens and genetically redesigned chickens in order for them to have a lot of breast meat," McKenna says. She attributes the change in poultry to factors like precision breeding, hormones and nutrition, but adds, "Antibiotics started this process."

On July 17, 2014, an unarmed black man named Eric Garner died on Staten Island, N.Y., after police officers threw him to the ground and put him in a choke hold. Garner's last words, as recorded on a cellphone video, were: "I can't breathe." He repeated the phrase 11 times.

As someone who lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder, novelist John Green sometimes feels like his mind is spiraling uncontrollably.

"It starts out with one little thought, and then slowly that becomes the only thought that you're able to have," Green says. "It's like there's an invasive weed that just spreads out of control."

The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of eight hours of sleep per night for adults, but sleep scientist Matthew Walker says that too many people are falling short of the mark.

"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain," Walker says. "Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it."

David Litt was 24 years old and just a few years out of college when he landed a job writing speeches for President Barack Obama — an experience he calls "surreal and completely terrifying."

Though he was initially assigned the speeches no one else wanted to write, Litt eventually became a special assistant to the president and senior presidential speechwriter. His duties included writing jokes for the short comedy routine Obama performed annually at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinners.

When filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick began research for a 10-part PBS documentary on the Vietnam War, they thought they knew the material. After all, Burns was of draft age in 1970, though his draft number was too high for him to be called to serve.

But as they began interviewing subjects and sorting through archival footage, Burns and Novick soon came to appreciate just how complicated the war was. "We went in, both of us, with this kind of arrogance about it, and immediately had that blown out of the water," Burns says. "We realized we knew nothing."

During Donald Trump's campaign for president, there were times at his rallies when he singled out one reporter for criticism. Katy Tur, who covered the Trump campaign for NBC News and MSNBC, remembers those instances vividly.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, first responders rushed to ground zero in Manhattan, where they braved dangerous conditions to rescue people buried in the rubble, retrieve the remains of the dead and clear the debris. Among them was demolition supervisor John Feal.

Feal arrived at ground zero on Sept. 12; just five days later, he was seriously injured when an 8,000-pound piece of steel fell and crushed his foot.

Growing up in southwestern Virginia in recent decades, poet Molly McCully Brown often passed by a state institution in Amherst County that was once known as the "Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded."

Are human beings hard-wired to be perpetually dissatisfied? Author Robert Wright, who teaches about the interface of evolutionary biology and religion, thinks so.

Wright points out that evolution rewards people for seeking out pleasure rather than pain, which helps ensure that human beings are frequently unsatisfied: "We are condemned to always want things to be a little different, always want a little more," he says. "We're not designed by natural selection to be happy."

As a climate change activist, former Vice President Al Gore is used to speaking in front of both hostile and friendly audiences. But there is one individual he has all but given up on.

"I have no illusions about the possibility of changing Donald Trump's mind," Gore says. "I think he has made it abundantly clear that he's throwing his lot in with the climate deniers."

New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy was five months pregnant when she went to Mongolia on assignment. Her doctor had cleared her for travel, and she was excited to pursue one last adventurous story before settling down with an infant.

But things didn't go as planned: Alone in her hotel room, Levy suffered a placental abruption; her baby boy lived for only 10 minutes. Afterward, Levy was haunted by the notion that she had caused her child's death:

"It's a terrible feeling ... that you made this life and failed to bring it through," she says.

In August 2016, three months before the presidential election, Republican nominee Donald Trump was behind in the polls. Instead of staying on message, the candidate was engaged in a politically damaging fight with the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq.

Growing up in New England as a first-generation Pakistani-American, Haroon Moghul was taught that practicing his Islamic faith would make life his better. What he didn't anticipate was how challenging it could be to be Muslim in America.

In 2001, Moghul was the student leader of New York University's Islamic Center when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Shortly thereafter, he was called upon to be a spokesperson for the Muslim community in New York — a role he describes as both a "civic responsibility" and a "tremendous burden."

Former Vice President Joe Biden has figured something out: "I learned how to become one of the most popular politicians in America," he says. "Announce that you are not running for president, and be authentic."

Biden shared that secret with Fresh Air on Tuesday in front of a live audience at WHYY studios in Philadelphia, where he received WHYY's Lifelong Learning Award for his distinguished career in public service and commitment to education.

Manal al-Sharif's path to activism began simply enough: In 2011, the Saudi woman filmed herself driving a car, then uploaded the video to YouTube. Ordinarily such a video might not get much notice, but because it's not socially acceptable for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, where there is a de facto ban, Sharif's video went viral.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has the distinction of being the only former Saturday Night Live cast member to serve in the U.S. Senate. It's a singular career trajectory, but it's also not particularly surprising given Franken's deep interest in politics and comedy.

Susan Burton knows just how hard it is to get back on track after being released from prison. It's an experience she lived through six times, once for each of the prison terms she served.

"One of the things about incarceration is that you're deprived. You lose all of your identity and then its given back one day and you're ill-equipped to actually embrace it and work it," Burton says. "Each time I left prison I left with the resolve to get my life together, to get a job, to get back on track. And each time the task became more and more and more daunting."

Rhiannon Giddens' new solo album, Freedom Highway, is an exploration of African-American experiences, accompanied by an instrument with its own uniquely African-American story: the banjo.

Growing up, Jill Soloway had a hard time relating to women as they were portrayed on TV. Soloway would watch The Love Boat or Fantasy Island and feel uncomfortable with the version of femininity the shows put forth.

"In fact, all the way up through watching Sex and the City, I would feel incredibly upset by what I thought was an expectation of me," Soloway says. "[It] was, 'You should really love cute shoes,' and, 'Because you're a woman, you're going to go crazy for a particular dress.' "

Growing up in Brooklyn with a mother from the South and father from Senegal, Gabourey Sidibe spent much of her youth feeling anxious. She was mocked for being part-African and for being overweight, and she worried she would never find her true calling.

As a young woman, Sidibe struggled to find work and ultimately took a job as a phone sex operator where the rule of business was to sound "100 percent white." Then, when she was 24, she auditioned for the role that would change her life.

In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program explicitly designed to increase — and segregate — America's housing stock. Author Richard Rothstein says the housing programs begun under the New Deal were tantamount to a "state-sponsored system of segregation."

The government's efforts were "primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families," he says. African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects.

Comic W. Kamau Bell has spent much of his life feeling awkward. A self-described "tall, rangy black dude," Bell was often mistaken for a basketball player growing up — except that serious asthma and allergies meant he spent the bulk of his childhood indoors watching TV.

He says, "There was this weird sense of guilt about the fact that I wasn't using the physical shell that God had given me, and that I wasn't taking advantage of my physical gifts."

When mentally ill inmates in New York City's Rikers Island jail become too sick, violent, delusional or suicidal for the jail to handle, they're sent to Bellevue Hospital Prison Ward for treatment.

The inmates in Bellevue are awaiting trial for a variety of offenses, ranging from sleeping on the subway to murder. But for Dr. Elizabeth Ford, a psychiatrist who treats them, the charges against her patients are secondary.

As the first American president to be elected with no prior political or military experience, Donald Trump has had to adapt quickly to the responsibilities of public office.

In 2017 alone, Merriam-Webster added more than 1,000 words to its dictionary.

Former Obama staffer Alyssa Mastromonaco is well acquainted with the privilege — and sleeplessness — of working in the White House: "I basically ran on adrenaline, almost, for six years," she says.

Mastromonaco began as President Obama's director of scheduling and advance, then became his deputy chief of staff for operations. Her responsibilities ran the gamut from overseeing the confirmation process for Cabinet secretaries to managing the president's daily schedule and foreign travel.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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