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Story in the Public Square

News & Politics Podcasts

“Story in the Public Square” is a year-round initiative to study and celebrate public storytelling. It features an annual conference, lectures, awards and student contests, as well as original scholarship about public storytelling and how those stories can affect the public debate. Story in the Public Square is a partnership between the Pell Center and The Providence Journal, and is directed by visiting fellow G. Wayne Miller with Pell Center executive director Jim Ludes.


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“Story in the Public Square” is a year-round initiative to study and celebrate public storytelling. It features an annual conference, lectures, awards and student contests, as well as original scholarship about public storytelling and how those stories can affect the public debate. Story in the Public Square is a partnership between the Pell Center and The Providence Journal, and is directed by visiting fellow G. Wayne Miller with Pell Center executive director Jim Ludes.








How The Chains Of Poverty Prevent People From Being Free: Putting An End To Poverty In America With Matthew Desmond

The United States is both the richest country on Earth, and yet beset with a crushing poverty that saddles too many Americans. Dr. Matthew Desmond is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and sociologist who says the reality of American poverty is sustained by those who benefit from it. ​​Matthew Desmond is a professor of sociology at Princeton University and joined the Harvard Society of Fellows in 2010. He is the author of four books, including “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, Carnegie Medal, and PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. Desmond leads The Eviction Lab, focusing his research on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality, and ethnography. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Desmond was listed in 2016 among the Politico 50, as one of “fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate.” See for privacy information.


Brad Sears on Current Issues Facing the LGBTQ Community

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that love is love is love and marriage equality became recognized in all 50 states. Brad Sears warns, however of legislative efforts across the country to roll back LGBTQ rights. Sears is the Founding Executive Director and Rand Schrader Distinguished Scholar of Law and Policy at the Williams Institute. He is also the Associate Dean of Public Interest Law at UCLA Law. Sears has published several research studies, primarily on discrimination against LGBT people and people living with HIV. He has taught courses on LGBT and disability law at UCLA, Harvard, and Whittier law schools. He has testified before Congress and state legislatures, authored amicus briefs in key court cases, helped to draft state and federal legislation, and been cited frequently by national media. A graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School and has received the Co-Presidents Award from the LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles in 2019 and the Earl Warren Outstanding Public Service Award from the American Society of Public Administration in 2018. See for privacy information.


Experimental Psychology: Exploring Public Perception of Morality and More with Adam Mastroianni

Every generation seems to lament the decline in public virtues, morality, and decency. But Adam Mastroianni argues that those perceptions are generally not rooted in reality. Mastroianni is an experimental psychologist and author of the science blog, “Experimental History.” He earned his doctorate in psychology from Harvard in 2021, and his work has been covered everywhere from The New York Times to “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” He is originally from Monroeville, Ohio (pop. 1,400). Outside of science, he’s also a stand-up and improv comedian, he has done over 140 escape rooms, and he once came in second on a British reality show about hosting dinner parties. See for privacy information.


Catalyzing Social Change Through Architecture with Justin Brown

Architecture is about the built environment. But Justin Brown helps lead a firm whose mission is to use architecture to help move communities forward, promote social justice and healing, and expand the possibilities of tomorrow for cities and their residents. Brown is a co-founder and Principal at MASS Design Group focused on expanding architectural work in the U.S. He leads the Hudson Valley Office in Poughkeepsie, NY and is dedicated to the growth of MASS’s Social Justice and Adaptive Re-use portfolios. He was the Project Architect for the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and founder of the Fringe Cities Design Lab, which researches vulnerable American cities and follows community-engaged design practices to unlock upstream capital to transform liabilities into assets. Brown has led award winning projects at Gensler in Washington D.C., Perez APC in New Orleans, and Toshiko Mori Architect in New York. He has guest lectured in seminars at Harvard Graduate School of Design, MIT School of Architecture and Planning, University of Toronto, and Dartmouth College. He holds a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. See for privacy information.


Exploring the Narratives that Have Shaped History and Conflict with Jade McGlynn

In grade school, we might learn history in class and think of it as a straightforward recitation of facts and dates. Dr. Jade McGlynn however, explains that history’s stakes are high—shaping the collective memories and national narratives that can prepare a nation for great trials and even conflict. McGlynn is an author and Research Fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her research focuses on Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2014, propaganda, memory politics, and state-society relations in Russia. Her newest books include, “Russia’s War,” was released in March 2023 and explains why Russians support the war on Ukraine. “Memory Makers: The Politics of the Past in Putin’s Russia,” released in June 2023, discusses how the Kremlin rebuilt a mythical past to justify a militant present. Both books are based on over a decade of research into Russian politics of memory and propaganda, including McGlynn’s doctoral research she completed at the University of Oxford. You can find her journalism and expert commentary on all things Russia in a wide variety of international media outlets, from CNN to The Times. She is a frequent contributor to BBC, Deutsche Welle, The Telegraph and The Spectator. This is in addition to her academic work at King’s College London and her policy work with New Diplomacy Project and CSIS. McGlynn is often engaged as a public speaker and to consult on issues of foreign policy, diplomacy and defense relating to Russia and Ukraine by governments and organizations in the United Kingdom, the U.S., and beyond. See for privacy information.


Elizabeth Rush Investigates the Impacts of Climate Change with a Journey to the End of the Earth

For longer than anyone can remember, politicians and concerned citizens have asked ‘what kind of world are we leaving our children?’ Elizabeth Rush grappled with that question in a very personal way when she journeyed to Antarctica’s fragile glaciers to chronicle the work of scientists trying to understand the realities of a changing climate. Rush is the author of “Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and “The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth,” which was released this month. The act of listening is central to Rush’s writing practice, especially to those who live in front-line climate changed communities and the voices long locked out of environmental conversations. Her work explores a couple of fundamental questions, “what does our disassembling world ask of us?” and “how can we continue to live and love while also losing much?” In 2019, Rush joined fifty-seven scientists and crew onboard a research icebreaker for months to visit Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica which is believed to be both rapidly deteriorating and capable of making a catastrophic impact on global sea-level rise this century. In “The Quickening,” Rush documents their voyage, offering the sublime—seeing an iceberg for the first time; the staggering waves of the Drake Passage, the torqued, unfamiliar contours of Thwaites—alongside the workaday moments of this groundbreaking expedition. Along the way, she takes readers on a personal journey around a more intimate question: What does it mean to bring a child into the world at this time of radical change? Rush’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications from the New York Times to Orion and Guernica. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Howard Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the Metcalf Institute. She teaches creative nonfiction at Brown University. See for privacy information.


America’s Educators: Documenting a Year in the Life with Alexandra Robbins

Schools are at the heart of communities across the United States, and teachers are at the heart of each school. Alexandra Robbins shares a year in the life of three teachers, the schools in which they teach, and the children whose lives they shape Robbins is the author of five New York Times bestselling books, is an investigative reporter and a recipient of the prestigious John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, given by the Medill School of Journalism. In 2022, she also was honored for “Distinguished Service to Public Education.” She is the author of “The Overachievers,” a New York Times Editors’ Choice and People magazine Critics’ Choice, New York Times bestseller, “The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital,” and “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.” Robbins’ latest book, “The Teachers: A Year Inside America’s Most Vulnerable, Important Profession,” described as “A remarkable piece of storytelling … with extraordinary reporting,” was released in March 2023. Robbins has written for several publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, Forbes and The Atlantic. She has appeared on television, on 60 Minutes, The Today Show, CBS Mornings, Oprah, The View and The Colbert Report and has appeared as an on-air expert on hundreds of other shows on dozens of networks. She won the Best Single Article of the Year award from Media Industry News, an Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism; the June Roth Award for Medical Journalism, among others. See for privacy information.


Haruka Sakaguchi Captures Cultural Identities Through the Lens

The photographers eye sees things the rest of us might not. Haruka Sakaguchi uses the camera to tell stories about cultural identity and intergenerational trauma. Sakaguchi is a Japanese documentary photographer based in New York City. She was born in Osaka, Japan and immigrated to the US with her parents when she was three months old. Sakaguchi’s documentary work focuses on cultural identity and intergenerational trauma. Her clients have included The New York Times, National Geographic, Time Magazine, ProPublica, The New Yorker, Smithsonian Magazine, BBC News, Bloomberg Businessweek, NPR, Newsweek and The Washington Post among other publications. See for privacy information.


Examining the Historical Bias in the Algorithms Shaping our World with Meredith Broussard

The myth is that technology is unbiased, but says the truth is more complex and explains how bias and discrimination creep into the algorithms that shape the modern world. Broussard is a data journalist and an associate professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University, research director at the NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology, and the author of several books, including “More Than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech” and “Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World.” Her academic research focuses on artificial intelligence in investigative reporting and ethical AI, wit a particular interest in using data analysis for social good. She appeared in the 2020 documentary Coded Bias, an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival that was nominated for an Emmy Award and an NAACP Image Award. She is an affiliate faculty member at the Moore Sloan Data Science Environment at the NYU Center for Data Science, a 2019 Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow, and her work has been supported by New America, the Institute of Museum & Library Services, and the Tow Center at Columbia Journalism School. A former features editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, she has also worked as a software developer at AT&T Bell Labs and the MIT Media Lab. Her features and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Slate, and other outlets. See for privacy information.


Examining Gender Inequality Through the Lens of American Sports

For all of the excitement and glamour, professional female athletes still lag well behind their male counterparts in terms of how much they earn, the power they wield in their profession, and the respect afforded them. Macaela MacKenzie shows that this phenomenon in sports is no different from the experience of women across American society. MacKenzie is a journalist who writes about women and power. She covers women’s equality through the lenses of sports, wellness, and the gender gap across industries. She is the author of “MONEY, POWER, RESPECT: How Women in Sports Are Shaping the Future of Feminism. She was a Senior Editor at Glamour where she directed all health and wellness coverage. She’s profiled Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles, Allyson Felix, Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Maya Moore, Mikaela Shiffrin, and many other ground-breaking women. Prior to her role at Glamour, MacKenzie was a freelance journalist focusing on the intersection of women’s wellness and culture. She has over 2,000 bylines for outlets including Glamour, Elle, SELF, Bustle, Marie Claire, Allure, Women’s Health, and Forbes among other publications. See for privacy information.


Power and Accountability in America’s Justice System with Elie Honig

Justice is supposed to be blind. But Elie Honig says that individuals blessed with power, fame, and money have advantages in the criminal justice unavailable to most Americans. Honig is a former New Jersey and federal prosecutor with extensive experience leading and managing criminal trials and appeals. He provides strategic advice to individuals and businesses in government-facing investigations as well as counsel on internal investigations. Honig previously served as Director of the Department of Law and Public Safety at the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, where he directed major criminal cases against street gangs, drug trafficking organizations, illegal firearms traffickers, corrupt public officials, child predators, and white-collar offenders. Under his leadership, statewide law enforcement introduced new initiatives to address emerging criminal threats, including post-Sandy fraud, cybercrime, human trafficking, and prescription opioid abuse. Before joining the Division of Criminal Justice, Honig worked for eight years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he successfully prosecuted more than 100 members and associates of La Cosa Nostra, including bosses and other high-ranking members of the Gambino and Genovese organized crime families. He has tried 15 cases to jury verdict and has argued over 20 cases in the federal appellate courts and the New Jersey Supreme Court. He currently works with partners in the White-Collar Criminal Defense practice as a key advisor on investigations and trial strategy at Lowenstein Sandler. He is also a CNN Legal Analyst and leverages his prosecutorial and trial experience to offer informed commentary on timely legal and government issues. See for privacy information.


Combatting Polarization and Charting A Way Forward with Peter T. Coleman

Political polarization is at epidemic levels in the United States—shaping national politics, friendships, and even family dynamics. But Peter T. Coleman says it doesn’t have to be that way—that each of us can adopt simple practices to reduce the polarization in our lives and in our communities. Dr. Coleman is Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University where he holds a joint appointment at Teachers College and The Earth Institute. He directs the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, is founding director of the Institute for Psychological Science and Practice, and is co-executive director of Columbia University’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity. Coleman is also a renowned expert on constructive conflict resolution and sustainable peace. His current research focuses on conflict intelligence and systemic wisdom as meta-competencies for navigating conflict constructively at all levels and includes projects on adaptive negotiation and mediation dynamics, cross-cultural adaptivity, optimality dynamics in conflict, justice and polarization, multicultural conflict, intractable conflict, and sustainable peace. His latest book is book on breaking through the intractable polarization plaguing the U.S. and other societies across the globe is “The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization.” See for privacy information.


Exploring the Urgent Issues of Our World Through Poetry with Joshua Bennett

Poetry comes in many forms. Dr. Joshua Bennett explores the history of “spoken word” and its expansion of the contours of poetry and its ability to capture the urgent, social issues of the day. Bennett is the author of five award-winning books of poetry, criticism, and narrative nonfiction, including “Spoken Word: A Cultural History,” “The Study of Human Life,” which is currently being adapted for television in collaboration with Warner Brothers Studios, “Owed,” “Being Property Once Myself” and “The Sobbing School.” He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His writing has been published in The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. He has recited his original works at the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. He has also performed and taught creative writing workshops at hundreds of middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States, in the U.K. and in South Africa. Bennett currently teaches literature at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and a master’s degree in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar. See for privacy information.


Shafo Sahil and Matt Waters on The Bond of the Battlefield

Soldiers know what it means to keep the faith—a character trait valued in others given the grim realities of fighting on distant battlefields. Shafo Sahil and Matt Waters know the bond borne of shared battlefield experience and can help us understand what recent Hollywood portrayals got right and what they got wrong. Shafo Sahil was an interpreter who was assigned to work as a Special Forces interpreter and completed over 100 missions in Afghanistan, including one where he saved for Matt Waters’ team from an IED. Sahil grew up in rural Kabul and was a good student who dreamed of going to college but sought work as an English teacher to help support his family after high school. After the Taliban tried to bomb his school, he decided to work as an interpreter to help defend his country from insurgents. As the U.S. prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan, they laid off interpreters and Sahil went back to work as a teacher. The Taliban started sending him death threats, and he went into hiding when they began searching for him at his home. He applied for a United States special immigration visa but was denied. When the Taliban overran Kabul, Waters and his team helped Sahil, his pregnant wife, and two kids get into Kabul airport and onto a military evacuation flight to the U.S. Sahil, his wife, and three kids now live in New Jersey at Waters’ parents’ home. Sahil now works as an IT Support Technician at Pfizer and is planning to purchase his first home in the United States. See for privacy information.


Life Beyond Traumatic Brain Injury with Jamie MoCrazy

Anyone who has ever enjoyed watching sports will typically concede that part of the appeal is absolute wonder at the skill, drive, courage, and commitment it takes to perform at the highest levels. Jamie MoCrazy embodied all of those attributes as an extreme skier until a traumatic brain injury ended her competitive career. MoCrazy is an American freestyle skier and motivational speaker who began winning State Championships on Connecticut in gymnastics and skiing at age nine. She was the first female skier to land a double backflip in a competition at the Winter X Games XVII in Aspen, Colorado. Her professional career ended after a skiing accident in 2015 while she was competing in the World Tour Finals in Whistler where she sustained a traumatic brain injury. Her injury and subsequent recovery has driven her career as a motivational speaker. She also established MoCrazy Strong, Inc., that serves persons who have survived traumatic brain injury and their family caregivers. The organization also works to raise awareness of traumatic brain injuries and for patient recovery efforts. In 2023, MoCrazy co-directed the short documentary, “#MoCrazyStrong,” with Mark Locki, which premiered at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and won the best biographical documentary short at the Atlanta DocuFest. MoCrazy holds a bachelor’s degree in English Communications from Westminster College in 2019. See for privacy information.


Examining America’s History Through Story with Ilyon Woo

It’s been said that the history of an era is written in the countless acts of individuals, doing their best to live their own lives. Ilyon Woo shares the story of one married couple whose personal journey—literally and figuratively—charts the course of the United States in the dozen years before the American Civil Car. Woo is the New York Times best-selling author of “Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom” and “The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times.” Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, and The New York Times, and she has received support for her research from the Whiting Foundation, and National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Antiquarian Society, among other institutions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in the Humanities from Yale College and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University. See for privacy information.


Exploring Human Displacement as a Result of Climate Change with Jake Bittle

The pantheon of writers focused on climate change ranges from scientists and scholars to poets lamenting the loss of our environment. Jake Bittle documents the impact of climate on people, including the great migration of Americans caused by changes to the Earth’s environment. Bittle is an author and climate change specialist for the non-profit magazine Grist. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s and other media outlets. He is also author of the new book, “The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration.” See for privacy information.


Azar Nafisi on the Power of Literature in Our World Today

So much of our modern life is built upon simplifying the complex. We reduce social interactions to likes and follows on social media and dilute the “news” in our favorite echo chambers. But Azar Nafisi warns that life is not simple, and the complexity found in great literature is ultimately liberating of the mind and essential to the health of our democracy. Nafisi is a best-selling author and professor. She was a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C., from 1997 and 2017. She taught as professor of aesthetics, culture and literature there, as well as acting as Director of The Dialogue Project & Cultural Conversations. She released her nationally best-selling book “Reading Lolita in Tehran” in 2003, which went on the spend over 117 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. The book has been translated in 32 languages and won many awards such as the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, Non-fiction Book of the Year Award by Booksense, the Latifeh Yarsheter Book Award, an achievement award from the American Immigration Law foundation and the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle. It has also been a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Memoir. Nafisi won a Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature in 2005, presented by the World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media. The Times named Reading Lolita in Tehran one of the “100 Best Books of the Decade,” in 2009. She has worked with both policy makers and human rights organizations to improve human rights for the women and girls of Iran. She was awarded the Cristóbal Gabarrón Foundation International Thought and Humanities Award in 2011 and was named a Georgetown University/Walsh School of Foreign Service Centennial Fellow in 2018. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Susquehanna University (2019), Pomona College (2015), Mt. Holyoke College (2012), Seton Hill University (2010), Goucher College (2009), Bard College (2007), Rochester University (2005) and Nazareth College. See for privacy information.


Jessica Grose on the experiences of motherhood in America today

Motherhood is the stuff of childhood play and, often, adult anxieties. Jessica Grose unpacks the realities of motherhood in the United States today, the reasons for those anxieties, and the experience of mothers from various walks of life. Grose is an established author and opinion writer at the New York Times. She is the founding editor of the email newsletter and website, Lenny. Her coverage of the pandemic earned her the title of a Glamour “Game Changer” in 2020. She has worked as an editor at Jezebel as well as senior editor at Slate. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Businessweek and other notable publications. Grose is the author of two novels, including her latest, “Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood,” which was published in 2022. See for privacy information.


Jamila Norman on the Importance of Homegrown Food to Urban Communities

Most of us are used to shopping in stores where one section is devoted to fresh produce, but the rest of the food for sale is either boxed, canned, or shrink-wrapped. Jamila Norman is an urban farmer and food advocate teaching the world about the benefits of growing our own food and eating fresh fruits and vegetables—whether grown on a community farm or in our own backyards. Norman is an internationally recognized urban farmer and food activist based in Atlanta, Ga. In 2010, she founded her own independent organic urban farm, Patchwork City Farms, which she operates full time. Her farm and work has been featured in publications such as, Modern Farmer Magazine, The Library of Congress and Southern Foodways Alliance oral history project. She is currently the manager and one of the founding managers of the Southwest Atlanta Growers Cooperative, which is centered around black urban farmers in Atlanta’s booming urban agriculture movement. She served as U.S. delegate to Slow Food’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy in 2014. Norman is also co-founder of EAT MOVE BeWELL, an initiative that is focused on including more fresh and living foods into our diet, promoting movement for health and wellness, and advocates for communities of color. She hosts “Homegrown,” a show on the Magnolia Network, which is currently on its third season, helping families transform their outdoor spaces into backyard farms. Most recently, Norman has joined the board of Georgia Organics, a non-profit organization which bridges together organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families. See for privacy information.