Astrophysicist Sara Seager joins me for a conversation about her leading role in the search for earth-like planets outside our solar system.  When she began her search as a graduate student – not just for any “exoplanets” as they’re called, but planets that may have just the right atmosphere to support life – she was greeted with plenty of “no’s.”  Not anymore.  Our conversation about her search led to insights on creativity, resilience, parenting, and the importance of sleep and free time doing nothing as key ingredients of success.  Seager, a Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at MIT and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, also shares the details of a side project that could, one day, change the nature of space exploration: mining asteroids for precious metals.  Her thrilling journey began as a child, when she noticed something in the night sky for the first time and asked herself: “Why hadn’t anyone told me about this?”

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Mary Koss has been on a 40-year quest for justice – “to understand why women are hurt and how we can stop it.” As a young professor, with a PhD in clinical psychology, Koss was asked by a more senior male colleague to join him on a study that proposed “to have women that he employed sit and wear different sizes of padded bras, while they interacted with male college students.”  What that colleague proposed to do afterwards, which you’ll hear at the beginning of this episode, would have made some women run in the other direction.  Not Mary Koss.  Koss has never run from controversy.  That helps explain why, during her own personal battle against sexual harassment, which she shares in this episode, she was willing to withstand “an entire year when no one spoke to me.”  And it helps explain why this University of Arizona Professor is pursuing a mission to spread an approach to justice that, instead of fighting in the criminal court system, has victim and perpetrator come to an understanding about the wrong that has occurred and the appropriate consequences.

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Professor Louise Fitzgerald is a pioneer in sexual harassment research. At this moment, when women who have broken their silence have led to the downfall of so many prominent men, I speak with Fitzgerald about how to assess the continuum of acts – ranging from bad to horrific – that have made the headlines. She also shares stories of harassment happening under the radar, including the extreme vulnerability of women in low-income housing to predatory landlords, and a case she is working on in which every new woman hired to work in a particular factory was greeted by chants of “fresh meat.” And, as usual on Wavemaker Conversations, we’ll hear our guest’s personal journey to success – which, for Fitzgerald, meant transforming from a college dropout with a 1.2 GPA to a university professor with a PhD. This is the first in a series of reports from the front lines of sexual harassment and assault – stories that don’t make the headlines.

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This conversation will help make your children (and you, too) better writers. Last time Jack Gantos was on Wavemaker Conversations, he shared his unforgettable journey to a terrifying prison sentence in a federal penitentiary and then to a prolific writing career. Now, with his new book, Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories, his goal is to help young writers who find the blank page terrifying. The book is written for 3rd grade and up. That includes all of us. All you need to begin is a blank journal, 15 minutes a day, and the willingness to “dump” some lines on a page. It’s that easy to start. The structure will come. How? Allow this Newbery Award-winning master raconteur to be your guide. And make sure to stick around for the end – when his mom realized he was hanging out with the wrong kids after discovering chicken-wire-shaped burn marks on the seat of his white underwear.

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Author Will Schwalbe is one of the funniest serious readers you’ll ever hear.  In our conversation, before a packed house at The Nantucket Book Festival, Will and I talk about his latest work, Books for Living, in which he treats us to a tour of books we might love to read – but may have missed – and shares his perspective-changing takeaways for how to live a more meaningful life.  Imagine: the hero Odysseus taught Schwalbe about the importance of mediocrity, exemplified by his story of getting a C on a high school paper and the unusually clever response from his teacher when Will objected; and the book Wonder taught him about how to increase his kindness quotient.  Schwalbe also shares his unique insight on resilience, based on his conversations about books with his mother when she was dying of cancer, which led to his NY Times Bestseller The End of Your Life Book Club.  He recommends a book that made it impossible for him to feel sorry for himself when he was at his worst, and explains why he’s “the last gay man in America who does not want children.”  Finally, after touring the country, he has a special message about why the “tribe of readers” may help heal the divisions in our nation.

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When Ruth Reichl became the restaurant critic for The New York Times, she learned there was a bounty on her – $1,000 for any worker who recognized this make-or-break critic when she sat down to eat.  Reichl shares the backstory of her elaborate, yet necessary, disguise; her courageous first review of how New York’s most heralded restaurant treated her when they didn’t have a clue who she was; and what changed once they realized.  Reichl also explores the connection between food and social justice, and how the act of cooking saved her (and could benefit us all) when she was at her lowest point in life.  Plus the moving story of how her mother learned to live a meaningful life at age 80.  The former Critic in Disguise engages in a thoroughly transparent conversation with Michael before a large audience at The Nantucket Book Festival.

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New York Times bestselling author Julie Lythcott-Haims says she is “so American it hurts.”  Why so much pain in this American success story? How did this daughter of a prominent black physician and white teacher come to loathe herself despite her academic success as an undergraduate at Stanford and a law student at Harvard, followed by her professional accomplishments as Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen and a best-selling author? In our conversation about her new memoir, “Real American,” Lythcott-Haims reveals, with powerfully poetic transparency, how she came to internalize the often shocking stories of the racial prejudice she experienced growing up as a biracial black woman – how they became embedded in her, and how she, ultimately, became comfortable in her own skin. Featuring a conversation about “The Talk” that Lythcott-Haims and so many black parents  give their children – the one designed to keep them safe without crushing their self-esteem.  

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Michael visits one of the most influential and beloved figures in the field of psychotherapy on the eve of the release of his memoir:  Becoming Myself.  At 86, after a recent health scare, The Atlantic magazine wrote:  "As a psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom has helped others grapple with their mortality. Now he is preparing for his own end."  Not quite.  Yalom's legions of fans will be gratified to hear his impassioned response to that analysis in this intimate Wavemaker Conversation.  He is still actively creating ripples, a therapeutic concept he explains here and which any of us can apply to our lives. He also shares a never-before-heard story about a recent patient who believed she was "beyond repair."  In Dr. Yalom's orbit, it's hard to imagine that anyone is beyond repair. 

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6’2” Carey Kauffman, a March Madness veteran of the Duke University Blue Devils, couples her insights from a life in basketball with her experience as the mother of two children born with rare diseases.  Kauffman, the daughter of an NBA all-star. will help make you one of the most insightful people in the room during the Final Four – and help give your kids an edge if they play the game.  But it’s her mission in life, which she pursues through her company WellSelf 360, that will inspire you.  She applies what she learned on the court to empowering those who suffer from rare and chronic health conditions.  If you listen to the entire episode, I think you’ll find Carey Kauffman’s resilience is contagious.

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You may be tempted to scream -- “don’t do it, Jack!” -- at the outset of this podcast.  My conversation with author Jack Gantos, at the Nantucket Book Festival, begins with a choice he made in 1971 that led him to a horrifying year-and-a-half as an inmate in a federal penitentiary.  He describes the crime and the time in unforgettable detail.  Where did he find the resilience to survive prison, catapult himself to college, and become a prolific and acclaimed author?  It begins with reading, which taught him how to “spelunk down” into the emotions.  Gantos won the Newbery Medal for his book “Dead End in Norvelt,” and other honors for his young adult fiction and his riveting memoir, “Hole in My Life.”  This is a long episode – 50 minutes.  I believe you’ll agree that listening to Gantos tell his story is worth every second.

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