fresh air interviews

Photographer Builds A ‘Photo Ark’ For 6,500 Animal Species And Counting

National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartore is 11 years into a 25-year endeavor to document every captive animal species in the world using studio lighting and black-and-white backgrounds. So far, he’s photographed 6,500 different species, which leaves approximately 6,000 to go.

Sartore tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that presenting the animals in the studio, rather than in nature, gives them equal importance in the eye of the viewer. “A mouse is every bit as glorious as an elephant, and a tiger beetle is every bit as big and important as a tiger,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.”

Sartore chronicles his project in the new photography book, The Photo Ark. The ultimate goal of his project is to help ensure that the future existence of his subjects, many of which are either endangered or on the verge of extinction.

“I’ve been a National Geographic photographer for 27 years, and I photographed the first 15 years or so out in the wild doing different conservation stories, on wolves, on grizzly bears, on koalas all in the wild — and can I say that moved the needle enough to stop the extinction crisis? No, no it did not,” Sartore says. “So I just figured maybe very simple portraits lit exquisitely so you can see the beauty and the color, looking animals directly in the eye with no distractions would be the way to do it.”

Photo: Arctic fox by Joel Sartore / National Geographic 


“Eventually I found out that I was on a watch list. … This is 2003 [or 2004]. … After the Patriot Act, I would always get my financial packages in the mail and they would just be opened. It was like, “What is going on here?”… On that watch list they would be like, “Yeah your name matches the name of a terrorist or someone that they’re watching.” I was like, “What terrorist is running around with a Hebrew first name and an Arabic last name? Who’s that guy?” NPR Fresh Air Mahershala Ali interview-2/16/17

Lin-Manuel Miranda On Disney, Mixtapes And Why He Won't Try To Top 'Hamilton'
NPR: Fresh Air

Lin-Manuel Miranda On Disney, Mixtapes And Why He Won’t Try To Top ‘Hamilton’ (NPR):

[…] Looking ahead, Miranda says he doesn’t feel pressure to duplicate or exceed the success of Hamilton. “If you think in terms of topping, you’re in the wrong business,” he says. “I remember getting that question after In the Heights. 'It’s your first musical and you won the Tony, how are you going to top it?’ I’m like, 'I went from broke substitute teacher to Broadway composer. I will never make a leap that big in my life again.’ ”

Interview Highlights

On what it was like to play Alexander Hamilton every night

It was an enormous challenge to do that show every night, and yet who to blame but myself? I wrote the part! And it was also the most thrilling roller coaster every night. You know, I got to fall in love, I got to win a war, I got to write words that inspired a nation.

Getting to go through that experience, it’s something I’ll never get old of, which is why I really tried to downplay my departure as much as possible, because I don’t think I’m remotely done with it.

On Donald Trump’s tweet calling for the theater to be a safe place after the Hamilton cast read a statement directed to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who attended a performance soon after the election

Here’s where I agree with the president-elect: The theater should always be a safe space. … I think one of the reasons Hamilton has been embraced by people of every stripe on the political spectrum is that theater is one of the rarest places where we still come together. You may take a totally different conclusion from Hamilton than I do, based on your ideology and your politics and your life experience, but we all sat in a room together and we watched the same thing, and that doesn’t happen anymore.

As you can see from this election, we have our own sets of facts based on who we listen to. Which news organization gets our business determines the facts that get in our head. So I think one of the things that makes theater special is, first of all, it’s one of the last places you put your phone away, and second of all it’s one of the last places where we all have a common experience together.

So to that end, I agree with [Trump’s comment]. I don’t agree with his characterization of what we did. I think anyone who sees that video sees [actor Brandon Victor Dixon] silencing the boos … from the audience itself, who … nine days after the election are still working through that thing. I can’t speak to that, but I know that Brandon quieted the boos and made a plea to lead all of us. I don’t believe there’s anything remotely resembling harassment in what we’ve done.


On the music that influenced him as a teenager

My sister is as responsible as anyone for giving me good taste in music. I remember stealing her copy of Black Sheep’s A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing and learning “Engine, engine number nine, on the New York transit line.” I think that’s probably the first rap song I really worked hard to memorize in sixth grade, but then also Naughty by Nature and Queen Latifah.

The music you love when you’re a teenager is always going to be the most important to you, and I find that it’s all over the score of Hamilton. … These are all New York, East Coast, '90s rappers, and that’s when I was a teenager. […]


Actress Carrie Fisher, beloved for her iconic role as Princess Leia, died on Tuesday at the age of 60.

She leaves behind her daughter, Billie Lourd, her brother, Todd Fisher, her mother, Debbie Reynolds — and her French bulldog, Gary.

Gary Fisher is a celebrity in his own right — he traveled widely with Fisher and was a star on Instagram and Twitter.

And when Carrie Fisher visited NPR’s studios in New York City, to talk to Fresh Air host Terry Gross, Gary came along, too.

Gross, however, was in Philadelphia. She didn’t know there was a dog in our studios. She didn’t even know that was allowed.

In the conversation that followed, it’s impossible to miss the buoyant personalities of both Fishers — Carrie and Gary.

LISTEN: Carrie Fisher, Terry Gross — And Gary The Dog

Photos: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images; Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Since coming out as a lesbian in 1980 at the age of 19, graphic novelist Alison Bechdel has made it a point to be open about her sexuality. It was a decision she made consciously as a reaction to her father, who was gay and closeted, and who died four months after Bechdel came out.

“In many ways my life, my professional career has been a reaction to my father’s life, his life of secrecy,” Bechdel tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I threw myself into the gay community, into this life as a lesbian cartoonist, deciding I was going to be a professional lesbian. In a way, that was all my way of healing myself.”

In 2006, Bechdel’s “healing” took the form of a graphic novel called Fun Home, in which she details her own coming out and grapples with her father’s death, which she suspects may have been a suicide. Fun Home has since been turned into a Broadway play, which recently won five Tony Awards, including the award for best musical. Lyricist Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori join Bechdel in a conversation about the play.

Lesbian Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Countered Dad’s Secrecy By Being Out And Open

On “the Bechdel test” of female characters in movies and on TV

Alison Bechdel: I feel a little bit sheepish about the whole thing because it’s not like I invented this test or said, “This is the Bechdel Test.” It somehow has gotten attributed to me over the years. Many, many years ago — back in 1985 — I wrote an episode of my comic strip where two women are talking to each other. They want to go see a movie and one woman says, “I’ll only go to a movie if it satisfies three criteria.”

I have to confess, I stole this whole thing from a friend of mine at the time because I didn’t have an idea for my strip. My friend Liz Wallace … said, “I’ll only see a movie if it has at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man.” That left very, very few movies in 1985. The only movie my friend could go see was Alien, because the two women talk to each other about the monster. But somehow young feminist film students found this old cartoon and resurrected it in the Internet era and now it’s this weird thing. People actually use it to analyze films to see whether or not they pass that test. Still … surprisingly few films actually pass it.

Photo: Alison Bechdel by Elena Seibert/Courtesy of O+M Co.


This week Fresh Air has a great interview with Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition expert. She explains how dogs can find tumors, predict the weather and tell the time of day – all with their noses!

I had the pleasure of talking with Horowitz a few years ago when I was working on this story about detection dogs searching for endangered turtle’s nests.

Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Sixty-three years after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, many schools across the country either remain segregated or have re-segregated.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal.

“There’s never been a moment in the history of this country where black people who have been isolated from white people have gotten the same resources,” Hannah-Jones says. “They often don’t have the same level of instruction. They often don’t have strong principals. They often don’t have the same technology.”

Still, when it was time for Hannah-Jones’ daughter, Najya, to attend kindergarten, the journalist chose the public school near their home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, even though its students were almost all poor and black or Latino. Hannah-Jones later wrote about that decision in The New York Times Magazine.

For Hannah-Jones, sending Najya to the neighborhood school was a moral issue. “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’

Illustration: LA Johnson/NPR

The Man And The Mistakes That ‘Invented Rock 'n’ Roll’

Sam Phillips, founder of the label Sun Records, didn’t care much about making flawless recordings. Instead, the man who discovered Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and a host of others rejected perfection in favor of spontaneity and individuality.

“Sam would say, 'I hate that word, perfection. It should be banned from the English language,’” music writer Peter Guralnick tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “He didn’t care about the mistakes; he cared about the feel.”

In his new book, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n’ Roll, Guralnick chronicles Phillips’ work at Sun and his lasting impact on the music industry.

Photo: Courtesy of Tom Salva/Little Brown & Co

The writing is — I’m free from pain. It’s the place where I live; it’s where I have control; it’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing. It is dangerous because I’m thinking up dangerous, difficult things, but it is also extremely safe for me to be in that place.

Image via Getty

Neurologist Oliver Sacks, who died Sunday, once described himself as an “old Jewish atheist,” but during the decades he spent studying the human brain, he sometimes found himself recording experiences that he likened to a godly cosmic force.

Such was the case once when Sacks tried marijuana in the 1960s: He was looking at his hand, and it appeared to be retreating from him, yet getting larger and larger.

“I was fascinated that one could have such perceptual changes, and also that they went with a certain feeling of significance, an almost numinous feeling,” Sacks told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 2012. “I’m strongly atheist by disposition, but nonetheless when this happened, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘That must be what the hand of God is like.’”

Our Oliver Sacks coverage (and the rest of that Fresh Air interview) is here. And now I’m gonna go home and re-read The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and sniffle a little.

– Petra 

Jason Segel talking to Terry Gross in 2009 about the naked break-up scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall:

“That was taken from the pages of real life. I once got dumped while I was naked, but she asked me to put clothes on during this real breakup, my real life breakup, and opposed to in the movie when I say “no,” I did go to put clothes on. So she waited for me while I went back into my room to get dressed. Let me just tell you, Terry, picking out an outfit for the second-half of a breakup is like the hardest outfit you’ll ever pick out in your life. I came out, I came out in a blue, buttoned-up shirt and khaki pants, like I was going to private school.”


Lily Tomlin on Grace and Frankie, her Netflix series with Jane Fonda:

“[Friends producer] Marta [Kaufman] had the idea and she was in my agency, William Morris, and they came to us with the idea, they came to Jane and me both. So that was really clever that she wanted to pair us up because we hadn’t been together in a show since 9 to 5 and that was a big hit and Jane and I really are fairly close and have been friends for years and it seemed like a natural [pairing]. We both wanted to do something about older women and how discounted they are, how easily overlooked they are in the culture, and have that kind of impact.”

Photos - Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 9 to 5 (1980) and Grace and Frankie

Carrie Fisher Opens Up Her ‘Star Wars’ Journal: 'I Think I Do Overshare' 

Carrie Fisher told Terry Gross about filming the famous Jabba the Hutt scene with the iconic gold bikini in Return of the Jedi:

“What my joke was when we first rehearsed it, they’re brought in front of Jabba, they talk to Jabba, Jabba talks to Harrison and Mark, and then they’re led off. They never say, ‘Hey! How are you?’ So as they were being led off I said, in the rehearsal, ‘Don’t worry about me! I’ll be fine! Seriously!’ Which I thought they should’ve kept in there. It was like, ‘Where am I in all of this?’ Sure, they were going to be digested for 2,000 years, but I have to stay with the slug with the big tongue! Nearly naked! Which is not a style choice for me. … It wasn’t my choice. When [George Lucas] showed me the outfit I thought he was kidding, and it made me very nervous. I had to sit very straight because I couldn’t have lines on my sides, like little creases. No creases were allowed, so I had to sit very, very rigid straight. … What redeems it is I get to kill him, which was so enjoyable. … I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with, I really relished that because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him.”

‘Blood Will Out’ Reveals Secrets Of A Murderous Master Manipulator

Let’s say you meet a Rockefeller — Clark Rockefeller — and suddenly you have this connection to a world of wealth and privilege. Or so you think, because one day you find out he’s an imposter. And not just an imposter — a murderer.

That’s what happened to Walter Kirn, and Kirn’s a smart guy — he’s a journalist and the author of two novels that have been adapted into films, Up In The Air and Thumbsucker. How he was deceived, and what the consequences were, is the subject of Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out.

On how Rockefeller manipulated people

“Here is the secret of a master manipulator and liar: They leave lots of blanks for you to fill in. For example, when he was living in San Marino and pretending to be a British aristocrat — and this came out of the trial — he told one young woman, “Oh, you know, I have an aunt in England, her name is Elizabeth.” Then at another point he said, “I have to go visit my family in Windsor.” This person thought, “Oh my lord, he’s related to the queen! The queen is named Elizabeth and she lives in Windsor.”

He was always doing that. He was always dropping breadcrumbs because he knew that if you put the story together in your own mind you’d be more convinced by it than if he told you the whole story …

When I first met him, he took me out to a very fancy dinner atop a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. We looked down on Rockefeller Center. At one point he said, “Let’s go take a private tour of it, I have the key in my pocket.” … I think I said “Oh, sure,” but … he said it in a way that’s like how people say, “You must come and stay at my house for a week.” And you say, “I’d love to,” but you don’t ever take them up on it? He’s making a social gesture here, but do I really want to go through the sub-basements of Rockefeller Center with this character at 10 o'clock at night? He made a lot of offers he knew you wouldn’t accept.”

[Originally broadcast March 2014, now in paperback] 

BEN E. KING sang lead with the Drifters before embarking on a solo career. He died April 30 at age 76. His voice was heard on many classic recordings from the ‘50s and ‘60s. His biggest hit was ‘Stand By Me.’

‘Stand By Me’ made it to #4 in the charts in 1961.  25  years later, ‘Stand By Me’ was used as the theme for the film of the same name.   The record was re-released, and landed back in the top ten.  Other Ben E King solo hits included ‘Spanish Harlem,’ ‘Don’t Play That Song,’ and ‘I Who Have Nothing.’  With The Drifters, he recorded ‘There Goes My Baby,’ ‘This Magic Moment,’ and ‘I Count the Tears.’

Terry Gross spoke to him in 1988.  

Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed brought back his comic strip Bloom County after a 25 year hiatus. He tells Fresh Air producer Sam Briger the story:

“This summer Harper Collins cashed in on To Kill a Mockingbird … and they published Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, and I watched, slack-jawed in horror, as they threw one of the 20th century’s most iconic fictional heroes, Atticus Finch, under the bus. They almost killed him and he was as real to me as my own father. Believe it or not, there is a connection here. 

At the time, and this is just a couple of months ago, it made me think that there would have been no Bloom County without Mockingbird because I was 12 when I read it, and the book’s fictional southern small town of Maycomb had settled deep into my graphic imagination and informed it forever. If you look at any of my art for the last 30 years there’s always a small town flavor to it. So when it came time to concoct a comic strip in 1979, 1980 when I was first syndicated, it became Harper Lee’s Alabama. Bloom County should’ve probably been called Silly Shit in Maycomb because that’s essentially what it was. So this summer, when Go Set a Watchman was causing an uproar, I went back to my files and I pulled an old fan letter from years ago. It was scripted in a shaky, handwritten scrawl and … it says: 

Dear Mr. Breathed, 

This is a plea from a dotty old lady and from others not dotty at all: Please don’t shut down Opus. Can’t you at least give him a reprieve? Opus is simply the best comic strip there is and depriving him of life is murder – a hard word to describe the obliteration of your creation. But Opus is real. He lives.

Sincerely yours,
Harper Lee

Monroeville, Alabama 

So that was June, just this last June, when I pulled it out. I hadn’t seen it for 25 years. I choked up and I thought about the preposterously ironic impossibility of my literary heroine from my childhood demanding that I not kill one of her fictional heroes 30 years later. The universe throws us some obvious little pitches sometimes and we need to be awake enough not to let them slip by. Within 10 seconds I just thought, “I’m not gonna let them do to Opus what they did to Atticus Finch.” So that night I found the blank four frames of Bloom County from years before in my files and I sat down to draw the first one in 30 years and I had a picture of me doing it and posted it on Facebook in sort of a what-the-hell moment, “Here’s what I’m doing right now.” And that’s exactly how much careful reason, sober forethought went into the whole thing, and then it exploded after that.”