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Headshot of a man.
Photo by  Zack DeZon

Playwright, composer, lyricist

Playwright, composer, lyricist Michael R. Jackson's play A Strange Loop had an extraordinary year--it has won Lambda Literary Award for Drama, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama becoming the first musical to win a Pulitzer for drama without a Broadway run, the first time it was awarded to an African-American for a musical and only the second time an African American received the award for drama.(The NEA funded the world premier which was produced by Playwrights Horizons.) A Strange Loop in the words of its author," about a Black queer musical theater writer who works as an usher at a Broadway show who is writing a musical about a Black queer musical theater writer who works as an usher at Broadway show who's writing a musical about a Black queer musical theater writer...as he cycles through his own self hatred." The show is bawdy, joyous, disturbing, funny and heart-breaking. The songs are often bouncy and hummable while the lyrics can tear at your heart. Michael R. Jackson has said he never thought the play would ever be produced, so he just wrote what he wanted. (There's a lesson here). And his mission statement is "is to make works that are as challenging as they are entertaining." He succeeded. In this podcast, we learn about the strange loop A Strange Loop has taken from its beginning as a monologue to its recent full-scale production. Michael talks us through some of the songs, we learn how his career goal changed from writing for soaps to writing for musical theater and much more. Michael is smart, funny, and extraordinarily engaging. (And the music is great!) Enjoy!

Headshot of a man.
Photo by Adam Jahiel

Leatherworker and 2019 National Heritage Fellow

Leatherworker and 2019 National Heritage Fellow James F. Jackson creates sculpture by carving leather. Go to his website and check out his work—then listen to the podcast. You really have to see the complexity and beauty of his leatherwork to appreciate our conversation about it. With all his projects, James does the work from start to finish: he designs, cuts, carves, glues, sews, sometimes paints and finishes the leather. And while James has certainly created his share of saddles, he also uses leather as the material for unlikely forms like vessels or lamps or wall hangings. Listen to a gentle man from Sheridan, Wyoming discuss his art, his teaching leatherwork around the world, the significance of traditional arts, and the deep impact of the Sheridan style of carving on Japanese leatherworkers.

Maria Rosario Jackson head shot

Holistic urban planner, member of the National Council on the Arts

Maria Rosario Jackson talks about urban planning with art at its heart.

Mary Jackson
Photo courtesy of Ms. Jackson

NEA National Heritage Fellow

NEA National Heritage fellow Mary Jackson talks about the art and tradition of sweetgrass basketmaking. [22:52]

headshot of Dolly Jacobs
Photo by Barbara Banks

Circus Aerialist and 2015 National Heritage Fellow

Most kids run away from home to join the circus. For Dolly Jacobs, it was a family affair.

Ahmad Jamal
Photo courtesy of DL Media

Pianist and Jazz Master

Ahmad Jamal discusses his long and celebrated career. [30:51]

Keith Jarrett
Photo by Rose Anne Colavito

2014 NEA Jazz Master

Pianist Keith Jarrett - letting the music happen. [34:27]

Headshot of a man.
Photo by Keith Bormuth

Television writer

Cord Jefferson began his career as a journalist, but six years ago he began writing for television. Since that time, he has put together a jaw-dropping resume—writing for shows like Succession, Master of None, The Good Place (for which he just received an NAACP Image Award) and the ground-breaking series Watchmen. Watchmen is a super-hero series set in an alternative world that nonetheless shares much of our racial history. In fact, the series opens with 1921’s Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma—where whites rioted and razed Greenwood, a prosperous black part of town, killing hundreds of African Americans and destroying the community. A bold way to begin a super-hero series—but then Watchmen is a smart and profound examination of African-American history and how it shapes our world today. In fact, the episode Jefferson wrote with showrunner Damon Lindelof has a character living out her grandfather’s memories of vicious racism in the 1930s. In this podcast, Jefferson takes us inside the writers’ room of Watchmen; we talk about Lindelof’s vision for the series and how the writers worked together to bring it to fruition. We also talk about the process of collaboration, world building, and weaving real history into a fantasy series. Jefferson is immensely talented and a great storyteller.

Adam Johnson
Photo © Tamara Beckwith

NEA Literature Fellow

2010 NEA Literature Fellow Adam Johnson talks the challenges of setting a novel in North Korea. [29:00]

Headshot of a man
Photo courtesy of the author

Novelist, essayist, graphic novelist

His novels take a satirical look at race and identity.

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