Terry Gross

Fresh Air Host

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle. Gross, who has been host of Fresh Air since 1975, when it was broadcast only in greater Philadelphia, isn't afraid to ask tough questions. But Gross sets an atmosphere in which her guests volunteer the answers rather than surrendering them. What often puts those guests at ease is Gross' understanding of their work. "Anyone who agrees to be interviewed must decide where to draw the line between what is public and what is private," Gross says. "But the line can shift, depending on who is asking the questions. What puts someone on guard isn't necessarily the fear of being 'found out.' It sometimes is just the fear of being misunderstood." Gross began her radio career in 1973 at public radio station WBFO in Buffalo, New York. There she hosted and produced several arts, women's and public affairs programs, including This Is Radio, a live, three-hour magazine program that aired daily. Two years later, she joined the staff of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia as producer and host of Fresh Air, then a local, daily interview and music program. In 1985, WHYY-FM launched a weekly half-hour edition of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which was distributed nationally by NPR. Since 1987, a daily, one-hour national edition of Fresh Air has been produced by WHYY-FM. The program is broadcast on 566 stations and became the first non-drive time show in public radio history to reach more than five million listeners each week in fall 2008, a presidential election season. In fall 2011, Fresh Air reached 4.4 million listeners a week. Fresh Air with Terry Gross has received a number of awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 1994 for its "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insight." America Women in Radio and Television presented Gross with a Gracie Award in 1999 in the category of National Network Radio Personality. In 2003, she received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award for her "outstanding contributions to public radio" and for advancing the "growth, quality and positive image of radio." In 2007, Gross received the Literarian Award. In 2011, she received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community. Gross is the author of All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians and Artists, published by Hyperion in 2004. Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gross received a bachelor's degree in English and M.Ed. in communications from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Gross was recognized with the Columbia Journalism Award from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2008 and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Princeton University in 2002. She received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1993 and Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007, both from SUNY–Buffalo. She also received a Doctor of Letters from Haverford College in 1998 and Honorary Doctor of Letters from Drexel University in 1989. 

Ashley C. Ford was a baby when her father went to prison, and for many years no one in her family told her what his crime was. As a teenager, she was shocked to learn he had been convicted of rape.

"It was terrible to try to process it," she says. "With rape, there's no mistake about the intention to harm. You intended to harm someone and you intended to harm someone in a way that I understand intimately."

The first time actor Antony Ramos saw In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway production about a Latinx community in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, he was floored.

"The pulse of this musical, it feels close to me," he says. "I hadn't felt that watching a musical ever. ... Watching In the Heights, it just gave me this hope, like, wow, this is what a Broadway show can be."

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Next week, for the first time in over a year, Stephen Colbert will be taping "The Late Show" in front of a live audience again. We thought we'd listen back to Terry's conversation with him in April about producing the show from home. Here's how she introduced their interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Actor Rita Moreno never had an on-screen, Latina role model as a child. "There was no such thing then," she says. "Certainly not for little Puerto Rican girls like me."

That changed when Moreno, who moved with her mother to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico in 1936 and spent years working as a contract player for MGM, landed her breakout role as Anita in the 1961 film West Side Story.

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Growing up in New Orleans, Atlantic writer Clint Smith was surrounded by reminders of the Confederacy. To get to school, he traveled down Robert E. Lee Boulevard. He took Jefferson Davis Highway when he went to the grocery store.

In elementary and middle school, Smith never learned about the legacy of slavery. Instead, his class took field trips to plantations — "places that were the sites of torture and intergenerational chattel bondage," he says, "but no one said the word 'slavery.'"

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In 1989, 15-year-old Yusef Salaam was one of five Black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly accused of assault and rape in the so-called Central Park jogger case.

At the time of his 1990 trial, Salaam, then out on bail, felt confident that the truth would come out and that he and the other teens would be proven innocent.

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Dawnie Walton was working as the deputy managing editor at Essence in 2015 when she decided to leave her job to become a novelist.

"I had been writing on the sort of edges of my day, waking up at 5:00 in the morning, staying up [late] sometimes if I had the energy after work to to plug away," she says. "And I just thought, ... maybe it's time to do something completely selfish and and just take this risk."

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Growing up, Seth Rogen wasn't much of a student, but he did like telling jokes. When he was 12, his mother signed him up for a local comedy class. He was the youngest person in the class by far, but that didn't stop him from performing stand-up in their show, which took place at a lesbian bar.

"It always will be a part of my story that the first time I told jokes was in front of about a hundred lesbians," Rogen says. "Most of my jokes were grandparent-based. ... I assumed the lesbians had grandparents just like I did."

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It's estimated that one in 10 women experience endometriosis during their reproductive years, a condition where cells that line the uterus go rogue by moving to other organs, taking root and spreading there, leading to terrible pain. Many women who have the disorder struggle to be properly diagnosed.

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For director Barry Jenkins, filming The Underground Railroad has been the most difficult undertaking of his career.

There is a 30-year gap in the life expectancies of Black and white Chicagoans depending on their ZIP code. On average, residents of the Streeterville neighborhood, which is 73% white, live to be 90 years old.

When Nicole Lynn Lewis got pregnant in high school, she thought it might end her dream of going to college and having a career. She felt ashamed, in part because of how people regarded her as a pregnant Black teenager.

"In that moment, as I watched those two pink lines show up on that test on the counter of my bathroom, [I felt] that I was now in a different category as an individual and as a person," she says, "that I would forever be in that category of someone who had made all the wrong decisions, someone who was not going to be successful."

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