fresh air with terry gross


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

Did you know Terry Gross got her start at a small feminist radio show? As of this fall, Terry has been hosting interview show Fresh Air for 40 years, bringing intimate interviews with artists, writers, and performers to our ears. A New York Times profile explains how she got into making media after she graduated from college: 

In the first months after she graduated in 1972, Gross floundered. She had married, but would soon divorce; she was fired from a job teaching eighth grade after only six weeks (she couldn’t control the class). But then she discovered radio. One afternoon, about a year after she finished school, she was sitting in her house in Buffalo listening to ‘‘Womanpower,’’ a feminist program on WBFO, the university station. One of her roommates was a guest, and she came out as gay on the air. Gross was surprised by the revelation, but more so by the way her roommate had delivered it: sitting before a microphone in a radio studio.

Gross, who had wanted to do ‘‘something in media’’ but hadn’t known how to begin, was intrigued. Through her roommate, she learned there was an opening on ‘‘Womanpower,’’ and Gross started on the show as a volunteer. Just over a year later, she moved to a program called ‘‘This Is Radio.’’ The show’s superpower was a phone line that allowed the staff to call anywhere in New York State toll-free. Gross would scour the Village Voice classifieds for people who might be interesting — jazz musicians offering lessons, a tattoo artist — and call them up and interview them. During college Gross had shed some of her innate reserve, but ‘‘I still was just inhibitively shy,’’ she said. ‘‘With a microphone, I wasn’t shy.’’

It’s great to see how independent feminist media has helped shape one on the most well-known voices of our day. 

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

‘Get Out’ Sprung From An Effort To Master Fear, Says Director Jordan Peele

The new film, Get Out, defies easy classification. Though it has funny moments, it’s primarily a horror film, with racial anxiety at its center. Writer-director Jordan Peele tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that he thinks of Get Out as a “social thriller.”

The movie tells the story of a young black man named Chris whose white girlfriend, Rose, takes him to meet her parents for the first time — without first telling them he’s black. Rose’s parents go out of their way to show Chris how open minded they are, but there’s something suspicious in the liberal facade they present. The film takes several twists and turns (which we won’t spoil here) as Chris figures out what is going on.

Peele wanted the audience, regardless of race, to see the subtle racism through Chris’ eyes. “It was very important to me to just get the entire audience in touch in some way with the fears inherent [in] being black in this country,” Peele says. “Part of being black in this country, and I presume being any minority, is constantly being told that … we’re seeing racism where there just isn’t racism.”

Previously known for his comedic work on the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele, Peele says that his current turn as the director of a horror/thriller film comes from a “deeper place in my soul” than his comic work. “This [movie] is just simply my truest passion,” he says. “It comes from this fact that in order to deal with my own fears, I wanted to be able to sort of master them. It’s really just want I want to be doing.”

Photo: Rich Fury

Image by @JoelSartore | This week I had the chance to speak with @NPR Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about the Photo Ark and what it takes to build it. We discussed this image of a 24-day-old Bengal slow loris, named ‘Captain Hook’ because he is missing a hand, taken at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Vietnam. This species, and more than 400 others, can be found in my new book “Photo Ark” available for pre-order now!
Check out the radio interview to learn more about this loris, the behind the scenes work it takes to photograph animals for the Ark, and my journey as a National Geographic photographer.
To see more images of this Bengal slow loris, follow @joelsartore!
'Sad And Absurd': The U.S.S.R.'s Disastrous Effort To Create A Jewish Homeland
Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen discusses the Soviet effort, in 1929, to create an autonomous Jewish state in the country's far eastern region. Gessen is the author of Where The Jews Aren't.

“This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. One of the worst good ideas ever is how my guest, Masha Gessen, describes one of two Jewish states created in the world. The Jewish state that you know about is Israel. The one you probably haven’t heard of, the one that Gessen writes about, is called Birobidzhan. It was created after the Bolshevik Revolution as a Jewish Autonomous Region. Jews who moved there had hoped to create a place of safety where Jewish culture and the Yiddish language could thrive. That’s not how it worked out.

The history of Birobidzhan is told in Gessen’s new book, “Where The Jews Aren’t.” She’s a journalist who’s also written books about Vladimir Putin, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot and the Tsarnaev brothers, who bombed the Boston Marathon. Gessen grew up in the Soviet Union deprived of many rights because she’s Jewish. She emigrated with her family to the U.S. in 1981, when she was 14. As a journalist, she returned to Moscow. But she had to flee a second time to avoid a law that would’ve enabled the government to take away her adopted son because she’s a lesbian.

Masha Gessen, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So just give us the basic outline of - what was Birobidzhan?”

@redmensch did you know this existed??


Top image courtesy Claire Harbage/NPR

When author Colson Whitehead first heard about the Underground Railroad as a child he imagined a subway beneath the earth that escaped slaves could ride to freedom. He tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that when he found out that it was not a literal train, he felt “a bit upset.”

Now, in his new novel, The Underground Railroad, Whitehead returns to his childhood vision of an actual locomotive that carries escaped slaves through tunnels.

Find their full conversation here.

– Petra


11 Transgender Americans Share Their Stories In HBO’s ‘The Trans List’

Eleven Americans describe what it’s like to be transgender in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ new HBO documentary, The Trans List. Though the individuals in the film come from varied backgrounds, there is at least one common thread to their experiences: “We all come out publicly,” lawyer Kylar Broadus tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “There is no hidden way to come out as a trans person.”

Broadus, who is profiled in the documentary, was born female, but has been living as a man since the 1990s. “I took a lot of crap [coming out], because, you know, I was out when lots of people weren’t,” he says. “At that time, everyone was losing their jobs. If you came out, you lost your job.”

Also in The Trans List is Nicole Maines, a young woman who filed (and won) a discrimination lawsuit against her school district, after she was forbidden from using the girls’ bathroom.

Why Teens Are Impulsive, Addiction-Prone And Should Protect Their Brains

“Teens can’t control impulses and make rapid smart decisions like adults can — but why?

Research into how the human brain develops helps explain. In a teenager, the frontal lobe of the brain, which controls decision-making, is built, but not fully insulated — so signals move slowly.

"Teenagers are not as readily able to access their frontal lobe to say, ‘Oh, I better not do this,’ ” Dr. Frances Jensen tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.“

Listen to the interview at npr.


In 1938, an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger gave the first public talk on autism in history. Asperger was speaking to an audience of Nazis, and he feared that his patients — children who fell onto what we now call the autism spectrum — were in danger of being sent to Nazi extermination camps.

As Asperger spoke, he highlighted his “most promising” patients, a notion that would stick with the autistic spectrum for decades to come.

“That is where the idea of so-called high-functioning versus low-functioning autistic people comes from really — it comes from Asperger’s attempt to save the lives of the children in his clinic,” science writer Steve Silberman tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

Silberman chronicles the history of autism and examines some of the myths surrounding our current understanding of the condition in his new book, NeuroTribes. Along the way, he revisits Asperger’s calculated efforts to save his patients.

The entire (VERY interesting) interview is here.

– Petra 

Terry Gross: “You mentioned that Aaron Paul didn’t know that you were going to slap him in that scene. Is it considered acceptable for you to do that?”

Jonathan Banks: “It’s totally acceptable for me. I’m not the one that got slapped.”

Peter Gould: “The rules that apply to everybody else, don’t necessarily apply to Mr. Banks.”

Banks: “You know, I get that senior pass. If you can’t take a hit from an old guy, I mean… Aaron can take a punch for goodness sakes.”

– from Fresh Air, Mar. 9, 2015

In the 10 years he spent driving an ambulance in Atlanta, former paramedic Kevin Hazzard rescued people from choking, overdoses, cardiac arrest, gunshot wounds and a host of other medical emergencies.

He frequently found himself practicing medicine in unsafe settings, either along the side of a highway as cars whipped past, or at the scene of an assault, where either the patient or the spectators might have weapons. “There are a lot of situations like that where it’s just not practical to wait for it to be completely safe and you gotta just try to weigh the odds,” Hazzard tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

In his new book, A Thousand Naked Strangers, Hazzard chronicles his experiences as a paramedic — and explains how it is that so many of his patients came to him partially clothed.

Find the full interview here.

– Petra

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.

I remember passing through this little town that was your typical dead town there in the Midwest, a lot of boarded-up windows, little white buildings with peeling paint, all the life had gone right on out of it. And that was the first time in my life that I felt a song coming on like it wasn’t just me trying to make something happen. It felt very different. I just started seeing all these visions of the life that had gone on there. So when I got down to my brother’s house, I remember asking him if I could borrow his guitar, and I had promised I would bring it back on my next visit, and he was nice enough to let me. When I got home from that trip, it might’ve been a day or two later, I remember sitting down on the floor and I had had all those images in my mind. I guess my brain had been working … on the trip, and next thing you know, this song came out, and it came out just exactly as it is now. It’s one of those rare [songs] for me that I didn’t have to fool around with or change. It was just there, and it was my first song.

– On @nprfreshair, Iris DeMent tells Terry Gross how “Our Town” came to be