A podcast about the moments that made the people who shape our culture
Why did being one of the only Lebanese kids in Tennessee set Jad Abumrad onto the path of audio journalism? How did the sound of a toilet flushing almost ruin the pilot episode of Serial? What caused Josh Thomas to black out and rant to half a million people about Grindr?
Find the answer to these questions and more in season two of the Sydney Opera House podcast It's a Long Story. A podcast that explores the stories behind the big ideas of some of our most influential and acclaimed guests.
Julie Snyder is the Executive Producer and co-creator of Serial and S-Town. Before that, she spent almost 20 years working with Ira Glass on the much-loved public radio show and podcast, This American Life. Snyder has dedicated herself to developing the craft of modern storytelling, using the tools of journalism to tell personal stories that reflect complexity and nuance. Snyder spoke at the inaugural BingeFest at the Sydney Opera House in 2016 on the topic of “Binge-Worthy Journalism.”
In the second episode of It’s a Long Story Season Two, Snyder speaks to host Hamish Macdonald about the early days of This American Life, storytelling as an empathy machine and why she almost quit radio at the age of 23.
Jad Abumrad is the co-founder of Radiolab – a radio show and podcast credited with creating a new aesthetic for the medium. Abumrad and his co-founder Robert Krulwich discuss everything from the most arcane of topics to some of the biggest questions facing humanity; is it scientifically possible to understand everything? Who has the rights to the images of a dead man? Why is there obscure nihilistic philosophy on the back of Jay Z’s jacket? Abumrad spoke in Australia for the first time at BingeFest at the Sydney Opera House in December 2016.
In this launch episode of Season Two of It’s a Long Story he talks about growing up in Nashville as an Arab-American, his utterly original approach to story-telling, why Radiolab is anti-soundbite and the importance of journalism in today’s America.
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 wellas 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
Fusing ancient and modernist influences, and designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the sculptural elegance of the Sydney Opera House has made it one of the world's most recognisable buildings, synonymous with inspiration and imagination.