Sunday, February 23, 2020

Starting 9th year of Story in the Public Square (And, yes, we love telling our origins story. Hey, we ARE storytellers!)

Eight years ago today, on February 23, 2012, I joined Jim Ludes for coffee in a shop in downtown Newport, Rhode Island. I had met Jim the previous October 16, 2011, when, as the newly arrived (from Washington) director of the Pell Center at Salve Regina University, he had kindly hosted the launch singing and reception for my biography of Claiborne Pell, “An Uncommon Man: The Life and Times of Senator Claiborne Pell.” The event, at the Pell Center on Bellevue Avenue, was a fine success. Kristine Hendrickson, Salve’s Associate Vice President University Relations/CCO, also came for that coffee. She, too, had been instrumental in the Pell bio launch.

Full house at the "An Uncommon Man" launch party.

During the hour or so that we met for coffee that winter day, Jim discussed his ideas for building the Pell Center into a robust place, what he now describes thusly: “The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy's programs are designed to generate new ideas, to expand public understanding of important issues and, ultimately, to help the public and its leaders make better decisions. Working with students and faculty, we don't just study the world, we try to change it.”

I, in turn, discussed my desire to extend my storytelling into the academic world.

Seemed like a good fit.

And so Story in the Public Square was born.

Within a few months, we had formed a partnership between the Pell Center and The Providence Journal, where I was and still am a staff writer. I was named a visiting fellow and director of Story in the Public Square, and Jim and I -- with Office and Events Manager Teresa Haas, then-communications assistant Mia Lupo, and some Salve work-study students -- got down to work. We had the full support of the great Sister Jane Gerety, who retired last year after a decade as Salve president. Her successor, Dr. Kelli J. Armstrong, has been equally supportive. Thanks to both presidents!

One of the first Story events was an address I gave on May 16, 2012, to the 2012 Pell Scholars. Sister Jane was present at the dinner, as was Nuala Pell, Claiborne’s widow.

©Marianne Lee / Courtesy of Salve Regina University
 The 2012 Pell Scholars, with Mrs. Nuala Pell, center; me, behind her; and Dr. Khalil Habib, director of the Pell Honors Program and philosophy professor at Salve Regina University, right rear.

That October, I spent a week in residence at the Pell Center as visiting fellow. The next week, we opened a Twitter account, @pubstory. A web site and Facebook page followed, along with a Wikipedia page. We did not, at that point, have even a whisper of a clue that one day we would have a national PBS/SiriusXM Radio show, our own YouTube Channel, podcasts and more...

On November 17, 2012, I gave my first public address for Story, "Where Stories Take Us."  In january 2013, we received our first major grant, from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. And on On March 3, 2013, we spelled out our foundational philosophy: Public Story = Policy Change. Which means, we wrote, “Storytelling can powerfully influence how people collectively think and act.” We traced the roots of storytelling to prehistoric peoples: Story, we declared, is hardwired into the human species.

Magura Cave, Bulgaria

On Friday, April 12, 2013, we staged our first major public event: a day-long conference featuring Gary Hart as keynote speaker and Dana Priest receiving the inaugural Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square. Plus, a great panel of storytellers.

Jim Ludes, me, Dana Priest, and Sr. Jane Gerety. 

Hart: "We need stories to tell us where we are [and] where we are headed." 

L to R: Moderator Karen Bordeleau, executive editor of The Journal; novelist
 Karen Thompson  Walker;  BU professor Chris Daly; URI political scientist
Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz; WBUR's David Boeri;  and the NAACP's Jim Vincent.

A year later, on April 11, 2014, we staged our second Story conference. The theme was "Moving Images" -- screen storytelling in its many forms, including Hollywood, animation, short-form documentary, TV and long-form documentary. The Emmy-winning actors, screenwriter, producer and creator Danny Strong received the Second annual Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square, and other prominent screen storytellers spoke to another sellout audience: Jim Taricani, founder of Rhode Island NBC Channel 10’s celebrated I-Team; Kendall Moore, associate professor of journalism and film media at the University of Rhode Island and an award-winning documentary filmmaker; Agnieszka Woznicka, animation artist and associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design; and Teja Arboleda, another award-winning documentarian, writer and educator.

Sister Jane and Danny Strong.
New York Times best-selling author Lisa Genova received the third annual Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square in a ceremony at the Pell Center on June 4, 2015. 

Lisa Genova accepts the Pell Prize.
 In an experiment that paved the way for our weekly TV/SiriusXM show, we taped Lisa at the Pell Center. A wonderful learning experience that led Jim and me to decide, that fall, to try TV -- in a TV studio, not a wing of the Pell Center, where ambient sound and other factors beyond our control interfered with the business at hand. The episode was never shown or aired -- but, as noted, we learned! (And Lisa, being a good sport, will return to Rhode Island to tape an episode of our show -- in our studio at our flagship station, more on that studio and station further into this post...)

Lisa Genova, right, goes before the cameras.

Not strictly a Story event, the November 1, 2015, launch of my book "Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age" at the Pell Center brought more attention to the Story program. AND, was a return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. Not to mention a really fun day with really old antique cars. Four were on hand, courtesy of Ambassador Bill Middendorf and the Audrain Automobile Museum: a 1904 Oldsmobile, 1912 Model T Speedster, 1912 Packard and 1893 Duryea: Watch them in action on YouTube. Also on hand was a crew from C-SPAN BOOK TV, which taped the event: Watch it here.

The talk. Longtime friend and screenwriting partner Drew Smith, center.
Drew travelled from California to join us!

My wonderful wife, Yolanda, and me on a 1904 Olds.

Those conversations Jim and I had about moving toward TV reached early fruition in early 2016, when Llewellyn King, host with his wife, Linda Gasparello, of the national show "White House Chronicle" graciously gave us a monthly episode, shot on their set at Rhode Island PBS. Our first show, "A New Partnership for White House Chronicle," broadcast three years ago this month, introduced Story to a much wider audience. Watch that inaugural episode here.

Llewellyn King on our maiden show.

Jim, me, Linda and Llewellyn.
After that explainer introductory show, we featured author August ColeDan Barry, Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times staff writer and best-selling author; Tricia Rose, Brown University professor of Africana Studies and director of Brown's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America; Hasbro CEO and chairman Brian Goldner; 2016 Pell Prize winner Javier Manzano, photographer and filmmaker; Raina Kelley, managing editor of ESPN's "The Undefeated";  Emmy-winning broadcast journalist David Shuster; and Adam Zyglis, Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist. These eight episodes from 2016 can be viewed here.

An early "class photo," of 2016 guests Javier Manzano and Raina Kelley with  Jim,  me and David Marseglia, who played a vital role in launching our show.  The "class photo" has become a fixture of the proceedings. Gianna Gerace took this one.

 How could we NOT turn the tables and have Javier shoot us?! Joining us were
Allison Barbera,  second from left, and Teresa Haas, second from right.

That was the original set. We replaced it, but the off- (and on-) camera fun never went away. Here, Javier was game.
So have been many of our guests -- when appropriate, of course.

And then we took the plunge, working with the fabulous folks at Rhode Island PBS to create, produce and broadcast what is now the weekly Story in the Public Square. We had a consultant custom-design and build a set, we hire the enormously talented Allison Barbera and her team to provide makeup and hair service, and after little (actually, no) rehearsal, Jim and I on January 3, 2017, sat behind it and welcomed our first three guests -- author and professor Tom Nichols, and Native Americans Loren Spears and Christian Hopkins -- for two separate shows that aired only on RI PBS and SiriusXM Satellite Radio -- a southeastern New England TV market, and an international radio one. By this point, Gianna Gerace was handling communications.

Scenes from that first day below -- or if you prefer, watch a behind-the-scenes video I shot and cut.

Loren Spears, center; Christian Hopkins, standing behind her.

Tom Nichols, right, as taping is set to begin.

Jen Bates was in charge of looks on Day One.

When she wasn't shooting stills, Gianna was running the social media.

Andy Gannon and Jen grooming Jim.

Nick Moraites checked the cameras. Today, he is our ace editor.

Our first director, Scott Saracen, readied the control room.

So that began the bigger story of Story in the Public Square. It grew in 2017, when the masterful Erin Demers succeeded Gianna and I began writing an occasional column for The Journal, "Inside Story," and in September 2018, we went national. Meanwhile, we began to podcast the show on several popular channels. We continued to name a Story of the Year. And we continued to award the Pell Prize: After Dana Priest, Danny Strong , Lisa Genova and Javier Manzano came Oscar-nominated filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki in 2017 and Dan Barry in 2018. The seventh honoree, Elizabeth Kolbert, received the prize March 4, 2019, at the Pell Center.

Erin Demers, with some of our crew. That's Mark Smith pointing at Scott!
When Erin Demers left, she was succeeded by Erin Barry, who has done a superior job, too!

Erin Barry, third from right, with crew and director Cherie O'Rourke,
third from left, and guest Susan Rice, center.
So thanks to our Pell Center staff, our RI PBS crew, Allison and Jen, and a roster of extraordinary guests -- more than 150 now -- we are now a national show, seen coast-to coast in most major markets. We also delight in having students and other visitors join us for tapings and meet-and-greets in the Green Room.

Reading across Rhode Island: Guest Elizabeth Rush, seated, with teachers
 and students from Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex, Providence.
We have won two Telly Awards. We have another remarkable lineup for 2020. Broadcast episodes can be viewed here. And you can find your local station and broadcast times here.

We had only a few ideas and a lot of enthusiasm when we started eight years ago. The ideas have grown, but the enthusiasm has never faded. Happy birthday, Story. Here's to many more!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Doctors in the Public Square

Our national “Story in the Public Square” PBS/SiriusXM audiences (and thank you for watching and/or listening!) know of the many different types of storytellers we feature on the show: scholars, authors, journalists, filmmakers, poets, still photographers, performance artists and more.
We also bring on physicians who with their practices, writing, research and advocacy bring important physical and behavioral health issues to the public square. And I personally have an affinity for MDs, having written three books featuring doctors: “The Work of Human Hands,” with Hardy Hendren; “King of Hearts,” with Walt Lillehei; and “The Xeno Chronicles,” with David Sachs.
As of this writing, the following doctors have been guests on our show, and all have been wonderful. Stay tuned for more!

-- Daniela Lamas, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at the Brigham & Women's Hospital and faculty at Harvard Medical School. Author of “You Can Stop Humming Now.” Broadcasts began June 9, 2018.

L to R: Miller, Story co-host and co-producer Jim Ludes, Daniela Lamas.

-- Sandeep Jauhar, practicing cardiologist and author, most recently of “Heart: A History.” Broadcasts began October 6, 2018.

Ludes, Jauhar, visitor Dr. Fred Wu from Boston Children's, Miller and Padma Venkatraman, taped the same day.

-- Jason Rafferty, pediatrician and child psychiatrist, practices at the gender and sexuality clinic of Bradley Hospital and at the Adolescent Healthcare Center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Specializes in substance abuse disorders and gender and sexual development. Broadcasts began February 12, 2019.

Rafferty, right, with Miller and Ludes.


-- Helen Ouyang, writer, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and full-time emergency-room physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Broadcasts began March 25, 2019.

Ouyang, right.
-- Mona Hanna-Attisha, associate professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University, founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, and author of “What the Eyes Don’t See,” a memoir of her role in exposing the Flint water crisis. Broadcasts began May 27, 2019.

Dr. Mona, center, with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and students and teachers
from Providence's Sanchez Educational Complex

-- Michael Fine, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, Fine has been a writer, community organizer, family physician and public health official for more than 40 years. He is the author of  “Health Care Revolt: How to Organize, Build a Health Care System, and Resuscitate Democracy -- All at the Same Time.” Broadcasts began September 16, 2019.

L to R: Miller, novelist Christopher Brown (taped same day), Fine, Ludes.

-- Joseph Sakran, Director of Emergency General Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and founder of Docs Demand Action, a “movement of Americans demanding common sense solutions to end gun violence in our nation.” Broadcasts began September 23, 2019.

Sakran, center.

-- John Halpern, co-author of “Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned Our World” and a private-practice psychiatrist who previously served as medical director of the Boston Center for Addiction Treatment, the largest substance-use disorder hospital in New England. Broadcasts began November 4, 2019.

Halpern, right, with co-author David Blistein and the Story hosts.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Meant to be: An amazing story and coincidence

           I regularly receive emails from readers of my books and I always respond. This chain, however, stands out. Really quite remarkable.
           The background: For many years now, I have visited Hardy Hendren on his birthday, Feb. 7 (which also happens to be my daughter Katy's birthday!). Hardy is the retired chief of surgery at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School professor emeritus, whose story I told in my first non-fiction book, "The Work of Human Hands." I treasure my visits with him and his wife, Eleanor, at their home in Duxbury, Mass.
           Three days before my visit this year, I received an email from Julia (Moore) Williamson, who had just happened upon the book. What she wrote stunned me, as did the timing: just three days before I would visit Hardy and Eleanor, deliverance a gift and sharing a fine meal.
           Hardy during his distinguished career separated several pairs of conjoined twins (formerly known as Siamese twins) and Julia and her later sister were two of them.
           With Julia's permission, I shared her story with Hardy and Eleanor, and two of their sons, Will and Robbie (both doctors themselves). We all were deeply moved.

Hardy, center, with Eleanor, Robbie and Will Hendren, Feb. 7 in Duxbury.
            Herewith what Julia wrote and I shared in Duxbury on Feb. 7, 2020, when Hardy turned 94:

-- First email from Julia:
Feb 4 at 7:47 PM

Hi, my name is Julia, I came across the book “The work of Human hands” and am just starting to read it. I was actually a patient of Hardy back in 1984, my sister and I are the Moore twins that were separated. I was wondering if you still speak with Hardy? I would love to share my journey with you both!
Thank you!

Caitlin, left, and Julia.

-- My first response:
Feb. 5 at 5:21 AM

Hi, Julia,
Yes, I still do. I will be with him Friday in fact, on his 94th birthday. Send along your journey and I will be glad to share with him.

-- Julia’s response back:
Feb. 6 at 12:38PM

That’s great!
My twin sister Caitlin had quite the journey, more than me. Dr Hendren separated us when we were only 12 hours old. I was born pretty healthy, but Caitlin had struggles.  When we were born, they did not think Caitlin would survive the separation, but my parents made the decision to separate us so that we both had a chance at the best quality of life. Caitlin was born with a condition called situs inversus, meaning she was my mirror twin and all of her organs were backwards and her heart was in the middle of her chest. 
Throughout the years Caitlin had numerous surgeries including 6 open-heart surgeries, thyroid surgery, a pacemaker, gallbladder surgery and so many others. In 2005, Caitlin suffered a major stroke causing brain damage and paralysis. Doctors had said, for the second time, she would not survive. Proving doctors wrong, she did. With the help of her family, friends and lots of therapy, Caitlin overcame yet another hurdle, learning to walk, talk, eat, and swallow all over again.
    Over the years Caitlin went into both heart and liver failure but was willing to try any and every avenue before a transplant was an option. Throughout all of her medical issues, Caitlin managed to have a smile on her face, a positive outlook and the kindest heart. If Caitlin learned someone was having a bad day, or had experienced a loss, she reached out to them, despite how well she knew them, sending cards, flowers, kind words or most often, a beautiful angel.
  After battling an infection from a recent tap to drain fluid from her heart failure, Caitlin passed away on November 19th, 2018 surrounded by her family.
Caitlin was the most beautiful soul. I personally would like to thank him for giving us both the best chance, best outcome and for giving Caitlin 34 beautiful years.
 I am married with 2 beautiful children and live up in Windham NH. I have gone on to get my Bachelors Degree and am currently a Social Worker at New England Pediatric Care, a nursing home for Children. My goal in life is to continue to give back with the blessings i have been given .
I started this page in her memory and hope to one day start a non profit. Recently i ran on the Children’s hospital Miles for Miracles team and will soon to begin training for  the Boston Marathon 2021.
Please wish him my best !

~ Julia (Moore) Williamson


I feel like when you live a life like we have, you appreciate every single day and know that everything happens for a reason. I only found out a few days ago about your book and had to reach out immediately. I also believe timing is everything (especially when it’s only a few days before his birthday) .
I just wanted to share that with you.
~ God always has a plan

POSTSCRIPT: Julia has not seen Hardy since she was a baby, but she will be visiting him and Eleanor some day soon!