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 Penquin Random House

In the struggle to shape what life on earth will be like years from now, visionary futurists inspire us with dread and hope at turns. Author Brenda Cooper captures both in her books. Perhaps her day job as the Chief Information Officer at the city of Kirkland helps her see clearly how things are now and might change in the future.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Northwesterners and people around the world have been inspired by Bill McKibben’s prolific environmental activism. McKibben took some time off from his global warming work recently to write his first novel, “Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance.” He admits he was inspired by one of his heroes, Edward Abbey — so you know things will get weird.

File photo: Bee
Flickr Photo/westpark (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/5bmhnw

It seems there’s a "how things work" theme on Speakers Forum recently. Last week it was tides, this week, bees.

Our guide is Thor Hanson, an uber-biologist who seems to really love what he does. He’s also a fine and animated storyteller. His new book is “Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees.”

Courtesy of Jonathan White

Before you listen to this talk by Jonathan White, you might want to be somewhere by the sea as the moon rises or sets. That would be ideal. If not that, be somewhere where you can search maps of all the far-flung places he’ll talk about. You’ll likely have that urge.

Courtesy of Horizon House

Skydiving is a once in a lifetime experience for most people, but not for Seattleite Stuart Williamson. He jumped last year for the first time, on his birthday, at Harvey Field in Snohomish.

Williamson took another jump yesterday, again on his birthday — his 100th birthday.

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2016 file photo, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington during a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on The Flint Water Crisis.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

The city of Flint, Michigan represents the height of American ingenuity, productivity and economic progress — and also the mirror opposite. 

Author Robin DiAngelo
Courtesy of Beacon Press

The term “white fragility” was coined by the Seattle-based educator and author Robin DiAngelo.

She defines it as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

Ben Rhodes at the Seattle Public Library Central Library
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

Ben Rhodes was a 24-year-old aspiring writer living in New York on 9/11. What happened that day made him want to be part of the response.  As you’ll hear in this talk, when his visit to an Army recruiter didn’t pan out, he looked for a way to get involved politically. 

Courtesy of Haymarket Books

Michael Bennett is a man who needs little introduction. He is famous as a professional football player, a philanthropist and an activist. Now, add author to the list. Bennett’s first book, written with journalist Dave Zirin, is ‘Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.’

Devon Adelman at KUOW's Ask a Special Olympics Athlete event on June, 9, 2018.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Here’s the thing to know about Special Olympics athletes: They’re adrenaline junkies. And for some, the Games is the perfect outlet for that.


Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll in 2011.
Flickr Photo/Mars Hill Church Seattle (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/9CHiMZ

What happened during the creation and growth of Mars Hill Church made waves in Seattle and beyond. A charismatic minister, Mark Driscoll, preached in a daring, new way. He sought to make his ministry “culturally relevant,” bringing a hipster attitude to conservative theology. His methods drew people to the church in growing numbers.

Courtesy of Penquin Random House

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the author of “The Botany of Desire” chose to experiment with and write about psychedelic drugs. They are edible after all. Still, like many people, Michael Pollan wasn’t exactly keen to fool around with mind-altering experiences.

Courtesy of Randy Stewart

Ignite Seattle is an unusual event. The organizers like to surprise the audience when they can — like that time a couple got married on stage. Thrills like that aside, there’s something thoughtful and genuine in every talk. More often than not, we learn something new. 

Courtesy of Libby Lewis Photography

Viet Thanh Nguyen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He was awarded that honor in 2016 for his debut novel “The Sympathizer.” Then he received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2017.

Participants at KUOW's 'Ask A Foster Parent' event at Amara
Courtesy of Alisha Goel

Lisa Blackmore says the question she is asked most as a foster parent is: Don't you get too attached?

“And the answer is yes. We absolutely love this little boy who's in our family,” she said.

Courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan and Leslie Jamison

On her website, Leslie Jamison writes: “I've worked as a baker, an office temp, an innkeeper, a tutor, and a medical actor. Every one of these was a world; they're still in me.” On her way through those worlds, Jamison dealt with alcohol addiction. She tracked that experience —  from inception to recovery — in her new memoir “The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath.”

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group

Author Nomi Prins used to be a Wall Street banker. Now she writes with a critical eye about how banks and economies work.

One example: how in 2017, U.S. banks used 99 percent of their earnings to buy their own stocks and pay out dividends to their shareholders.

KUOW Photo/Sonya Harris

It sometimes seems as if author Barbara Ehrenreich has seen it all and done it all. From “Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers” to “Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth about Everything,” the scope of her writing has been vast.

Senator Patty Murray in the KUOW offices, Jan. 2016.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

The Civic Cocktail series brings political, business and community leaders to Seattle for a drink and a line of questioning from reporters and attendees. The most recent session featured Senator Patty Murray and former Washington Governor and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Participants at KUOW’s Ask A Muslim event at MAPS in Redmond, Washington.
KUOW photo/John O'Brien

KUOW’s Ask A series is three years old now. The conversations we host bridge cultural, political and philosophical divides. As you might imagine, people are often nervous before the discussions begin.


Courtesy of Timothy Greenfield Sanders/Harper Collins

The work of diplomacy is subtle, but the actions of world leaders are sometimes the opposite. Famed American diplomat Madeleine Albright confronts the dangers of undiplomatic and undemocratic political trends in her new book “Fascism: A Warning.”

Courtesy of Peter DiCampo

Last year, a hashtag became an event in Seattle: #EducationSoWhite 2017 gave voice to and started a conversation about the lack of diversity among teachers in our schools. Ninety percent of Washington state teachers are white, while nearly half of the students are people of color.

Courtesy of M. Sharkey

There’s a thing at talks around Seattle. Often enough, you can feel it when the crowd gets restless if the event goes to a certain length. You can see the people looking for a chance to exit. One bolts, and others rush to follow.

There was no restlessness at author Alexander Chee’s reading on Monday night. Even though the room was a tad warm, no one left. They hardly stirred.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Washington Policy Center's annual gala on Friday, October 13, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

If Diane Ravitch were running for office, her opponent might attack her for being "for Common Core before she was against it." Ravitch served as an assistant secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration, and was originally a proponent of standardized testing, school choice, common core standards and the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Courtesy of Jorge Aguilar

Last year thousands of people hit the streets of Seattle and the nation to march for all things scientific: respect for the scientific method, evidence-based government policies, public funding for research and increased support for STEM education.

Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

You hear of situations where a book comes to a writer in a torrent. In this talk, writer André Aciman tells such a story about his well-loved novel, “Call Me By Your Name,” published in 2007.

Aciman’s book came to renewed acclaim, and some controversy, when the film adaptation became a phenomenon last year. The acclaim: The movie was nominated for multiple awards and won an Academy Award for screenwriter James Ivory. The controversy: Some raised age-of-consent issues about the relationship between 17 year-old Elio and his lover, 24-year-old Oliver.

Courtesy of Sandbox Radio

Over the last few years Speakers Forum has featured broadcasts of the Seattle theatre troupe Sandbox Radio. In that time we came to love the work of actor and comedian Peggy Platt. She wrote and performed skits full of sharp humor and the ironies of life.

U.S. Army Spc. Kevin Welsh provides security before boarding a CH-47 Chinook helicopter after completing a mission in Chak valley in the Wardak province of Afghanistan on Aug. 3, 2010.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Army (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/8tkNqR

Steve Coll is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His new book, a sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winner “Ghost Wars,” is “Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016.”

Courtesy of Penquin Random House

As crazy as the world seems sometimes, author Steven Pinker argues our ancestors would most certainly envy us. From life expectancy and standards of health to general prosperity, peace and happiness, he argues we’re better off than they were — and don’t get him started on anesthesia.

Courtesy of Jamie Rand Imaging/Jamie Colman

This past weekend, students in hundreds of cities and towns around the country joined in March For Our Lives  "sibling marches." Before the March For Our Lives Seattle event, students and supporters gathered to hear speeches.

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