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It’s a Long Story

A podcast about the moments that made the people who shape our culture

What galvanised African American activist Alicia Garza to co-create #BlackLivesMatter? How did Henry Rollins make the jump from shift manager at Häagen-Dazs to lead singer of US punk rock band Black Flag? How does NSW Australian of the Year Deng Thiak Adut’s former life as a Sudanese refugee and child soldier inform his practice of the law?

Find the answer to these questions and more in an Opera House podcast-first. With its premiere season hosted by award-winning Australian broadcast journalist Hamish Macdonald, It’s a Long Story unpacks the influences and eureka moments that formed some of its most acclaimed and influential guests.

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver came to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2016 to posit the provocation: it is good for your health to break a rule a day. The author of international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin, as well as The Mandibles, Big Brother, New Republic and Game Control, Shriver’s books have become famous for their dystopian outlook on life and for daring to delve into topics that many find uncomfortable. 

In this final episode of season one, Lionel Shriver speaks about growing up, Brexit, and why young women (and men) should be taught about female pleasure. Changing her name from Margaret to Lionel as a child, Shriver says she learned rebellion from her older brother, Greg – a verified genius who left High School at the age of 14. Shriver opens up about aspects of her life that influenced her work – including her relationship with her brother and her certainty from a young age that she would never have children. 

Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman came to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2016 to discuss the perceived social and cultural value of ‘literary’ fiction compared to the ‘genre’ fiction of thrillers, fantasy and sci fi. As a writer, Grossman received critical acclaim for his third novel, The Magicians, which would go on to become the #1 New York Times bestselling trilogy of the same name. 

In this episode he explores the loneliness of growing up as the son of two authors, who valued solo time reading and had big expectations for their children. Grossman talks of losing himself in Narnia, becoming addicted to the first video games, and how fantasy and sci fi is more than mere escapism.

Priyamvada Gopal

Following a high-level academic spat on live British radio, Priyamvada Gopal was once described as an obscure Cambridge lecturer. In truth she is anything but. There are few public intellectuals who think and write on the subjects of India and colonialism with as much influence and insight.

A reader with the University of Cambridge in Anglophone and related literature she has a Ph.D. from Cornell and specialises in colonial and post-colonial literature. Priya Gopal has said that “since dictators, war criminals and bankers also read Shakespeare we can't claim that literature will inevitably make society more humane and imaginative. But it does engage most people's ethical capacities.”

“All of human civilisation is in some sense a struggle for the control of water.”

Alok Jha

Alok Jha

Alok Jha is a self-described water obsessive, a scientist and communicator; he's made an art form of unpicking and unpacking some of the most complex questions of our age. A fascination with water has taken him literally to the ends of the earth.

A journey to Antarctica in 2013 came close to an unfortunate end. Thankfully, still with us, he joins a long list of remarkable science communicators, who try to make the incomprehensible sound simple. “All of human civilisation is in some sense” he says, “a struggle for the control of water”.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Sheila Watt-Cloutier is an independent advocate on Inuit human rights.

When she was growing up, she wanted to be a nurse and then a doctor, but that didn't pan out very well because she wasn't very good at chemistry, physics, or mathematics. Watt-Cloutier lives in Iqaluit on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. If the Arctic is the world's barometer, says Sheila, then the Inuit are the mercury, and she has campaigned tirelessly to get this message out, to explain to the world that climate change is not just an environmental concern, but very much a human one too. It is work that has made a mark globally and saw her nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jesse Bering

From a very early age, Jesse Bering has been asking questions of himself. Growing up amid AIDS hysteria in Reagan's America, Bering knew that he was attracted to other boys but was terrified into a guilty silence. In high school he took up wrestling in a bid to fight back sexual desire but found only deeper consciousness of his homosexuality.

As an adult he has continued asking questions with frankness and with humour, handling sensitive topics like sex, evolution, religion, and morality. His books Perv and Why is the Penis Shaped Like That? Have elevated him to cult hero status. “If I had to put a label on myself,”he says, “it would be a sexual libertarian.”

“I didn't understand how fearful I should have been.”

Deng Thiak Adut

Deng Thiak Adut

“I remember the day when the news came of children being conscripted into the army.”
From child soldier to criminal lawyer, Deng Thiak Adut recounts his early years in Sudan and the challenges of building a new life in Australia.

There are people with interesting life stories, and then there are people whose lives read like a screenplay.

From being conscripted as a child soldier in Sudan to finding a new home in suburban Australia as a refugee where he taught himself to read and to write, Deng Thiak Adut is today a lawyer representing those who, just like him, struggle to find a voice. He's even been at the centre of one of those most modern phenomena, a viral video sensation. Like millions of children who grow up within the geography of conflict his childhood was taken away. “I didn't understand what freedoms I had lost,” he says, “I didn't understand how fearful I should have been.”

Alicia Garza

African American activist and co-creator of the#BlackLivesMatter network Alicia Garza opens up about growing up as one of only a few black families in Marin County, San Francisco, being inspired by Prince, and her identity as a queer, black woman.

She discusses the moment that George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges of the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the responsibility that she felt to act; penning her famous Love Letter to Black People that went on to inspire the #BlackLivesMatter network. 

Henry Rollins

“One day I woke up and I didn't have any more lyrics”
When Henry Rollins was in 10th grade he punched a 12th grader in the jaw so hard that one of the other kid’s teeth tore through his cheek. The moment proved seminal in his long and varied career.

In our debut episode, Henry Rollins discusses his tumultuous childhood growing up in Washington DC, and how he transitioned from scooping ice cream at Haagen Dazs to fronting punk rock band Black Flag.

A turning point came for Henry Rollins about a decade ago, marked by a departure from music into activism and spoken word performance, “For me, music was a time and a place. I never really enjoyed being in a band,” says Henry Rollins, “It was in me, and it needed to come out. Like a 25-year exorcism. One day I woke up and I didn't have any more lyrics.”

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