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In 1976, Milton Glaser sent him to a Brooklyn disco for New York magazine, to illustrate an article that would become the movie Saturday Night Fever. Jim showed his paintings to editor Clay Felker. “Clay looked at them and he said, ‘Jim, what are you showing me here? I don’t get it. Nothing’s happening.’” But it all worked out. And not just for Joh…
 
This young astronomer studied astrophysics and folklore and now researches places in our galaxy where livable planets are most likely to form. She's as rational as the next astrophysicist but acknowledges an early enthusiasm: “I spent way too long, countless hours as a child, trying to move things with my mind, or control fire or the weather.” The …
 
This composer and guitar player says that joining with people to make social change is like joining with people to make music. “You’re finding people you work well with, who bring something to the table that you don’t.” A conversation about guitar music and transportation policy. Presented by violist Ralph Farris of the quartet Ethel.…
 
A journalist with expertise in China, Newsweek’s former Beijing bureau chief says, “The struggle between intellectuals and the merchant class continues in China, but at the moment it’s kind of like money trumps everything.” I’m glad I don’t live in a country like that. We defeated our intellectuals long ago. Produced with the China Institute.…
 
An original cast member on Saturday Night Live (Connie Conehead!), she’s now a voice actor—Shrek, Finding Nemo. Her later-in-life pleasure: Coachella, but she won’t attend this year. “I can’t, I can’t, my knees just won’t take it any more.” We talk about phases of life and the inadequate seating at music festivals.…
 
Many people share this writer’s admiration of John James Audubon as a naturalist and an artist, especially his magisterial Birds of America. “But fewer people know about him as a slave owner and a white supremacist,” she says. Birds, beauty, climate change, and racial justice: it’s complicated. And delightfully so. Produced with Orion Magazine.…
 
His first feature-length documentary, The War Room, was Oscar-nominated. He won an Emmy for American High, a TV series. Years earlier he received this professional tip from his mentor, D. A. Pennebaker: “You’re not a director until you wake up screaming in the middle of the night.” Apparently I am a director. As are we all.…
 
A Russia specialist at the Brookings Institution, she testified at the House impeachment hearings with erudition, integrity, and courage. She got her start as a child dominoes hustler at a miners' pub in the north of England. “My granddad would have me play and bet on me, and every time I won I would get a ginger beer.” The making of a scholar.…
 
This flutist and composer was born in Chicago, where her grandparents arrived during the Great Migration. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely an upgrade from Mississippi.” There’s a slogan the visitors bureau won’t be using. A musician reflects on her home town and one of its sons. Another in our series On Collaboration with violist Ralph Far…
 
Having won the Pulitzer Prize for his play A Strange Loop, what will he do next? One possibility, move to Wyoming. “I’d get my house somewhere, get my shotgun, if I needed it, and sit on my porch in my rocking chair.” An eastern sophisticate contemplates the West, Tori Amos, and soap opera. Presented with Federal Hall and the New York Harbor Conser…
 
Before embracing a more salubrious life in Los Angeles, he rollicked through a years-long spree back east. “New York is paradise if you’re a drunk, and a very challenging place to be sober.” A slogan inexplicably rejected by the New York Visitors Bureau. This master of electronic dance music talks about religion, wilderness, and David Bowie’s hat.…
 
This actor and singer won a Grammy, an Emmy, and a Tony for The Color Purple. She played Harriet Tubman in Harriet and Aretha Franklin in Genius. Is there anything she can’t do? “I will not be releasing an album of Hawaiian guitar music; I don’t think I can get nearly good enough to do that.” Hey, if she turned her mind to it . . .…
 
He is the writer of Drafted: A Memoir of the '60s and the screenplays for The Boys from Brazil (Gregory Peck) Fort Apache, the Bronx (Paul Newman), and Cocktail (Tom Cruise). “I definitely learned how to deal with people who were tougher than me, smarter than me, stronger than me; I had to find my way in that world.” He means the schoolyard. He als…
 
“I have no interest in completing projects,” says this architect, winner of the Pritzker Prize. “A lot of our stuff just keeps moving; it refuses to have an edge, a boundary; it’s in constant change.” For someone who feels that way, he’s completed an awful lot of them, and to great acclaim. Presented with the Center for Architecture.…
 
Every musician relishes applause — who doesn't? — but the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic also finds value in an audience booing. “To know that someone was infuriated by a performance or a set or something like that is kind of enjoyable in a sick sort of way, too.” The joys of a passionately engaged audience.…
 
She heads New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, safeguarding 36,000 buildings. She loves them all, of course, but one material has a special claim on her heart. “We have terra cotta everywhere in this city, architectural terra cotta. It’s structural, it’s non-structural, it’s ornamental.” That fabulous clay, that magical goo, that stuf…
 
To experience art does not mean to contemplate an immutable exquisite object, but to cultivate a relationship, says this dancer/choreographer. “It’s similar to what you get from long-term friendships or marriage or family.” Maybe not my family, but I see what she means. Introduced by Ralph Farris, violist in the quartet Ethel, and creator of Co-Lab…
 
One way to describe art is to note that it has beauty but not utility. This poet rejects that dichotomy, especially when it comes to everyday objects. “Often, things that are domestic are diminished because they are connected to females.” She loves things that are both beautiful and useful: quilts, fans, teapots. A conversation with the winner of t…
 
Author of The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, he is as sophisticated an intellectual as any of his colleagues at The New Yorker. The book that set him on his path? A Hardy Boys mystery, The Secret of the Old Mill. “I read this, and my heart was pounding. And I thought, I want to do that. I want to write things that will make people’s h…
 
This actor, perhaps best known as Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl and Joe Goldberg in the Netflix series You, is modest about his craft. “The only thing that’s ours as actors is how we feel as we say lines we didn’t write, as we wear clothes we didn’t purchase or even choose.” The importance of emotional honesty, the burden of dubious sport jackets. Pr…
 
This terrific graphic designer loves, without nostalgia, the world of print magazines where she began. She cautions her students, denizens of the online realm, “Everything looks cool on screen.” Her prescription: “Buy a printer, buy a printer, buy a printer.” The seductive deceptions of the digital, the bracing revelations of the physical. Presente…
 
When this sculptor creates a statue of a historical figure―Sojourner Truth, Ella Fitzgerald, Teddy Roosevelt―she learns a lot about her subject. While conceiving a more metaphoric project, Victory, she made a disconcerting discovery: there are no Black angels in public art. “Are you trying to say there are no Black people in heaven?” she demanded. …
 
Some scholars toil away their lives, humbly adding their mote to the supply of human knowledge. Then there was Selma Barkham. “She was responsible for finding out something about Newfoundland that nobody had ever known,” says Annie Proulx. A fine writer–The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain–tells the story of an extraordinary scholar. Presented wit…
 
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