Stephen Kuusisto

Photo by Anni Vartola

Let’s face it, most of us take our vision for granted. Even if we have to wear glasses or contacts, we just look at the world and see things.

But what if you were born without that ability? What would life be like as a blind person?

Poet and professor Stephen Kuusisto was born in 1955, and has essentially been blind since birth. And he has become one of the country’s leading advocates for the blind and visually disabled community.

I met him in 1998 when he wrote his memoir, a book called Planet of The Blind.

So here now, from 1998, Stephen Kuusisto.

Stephen Kuusisto is 68 now, and still a strong advocate for those with visual disabilities.

Helen Prejean

How did a Roman Catholic nun wind up befriending a convicted killer on death row?

The answer to that deceptively simple question is found in Sister Helen Prejean’s bestselling 1993 book Dead Man Walking. If you haven’t read the book, you’ve probably seen the movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.

Prejean is an outspoken and powerful voice against capital punishment. Her book has made millions of people reconsider their own positions on the death penalty.

I first met her shortly after her book was published. So here now, from 1993, Sister Helen Prejean.

Sister Helen Prejean celebrated her 84th birthday last week. And she is still working to eliminate the death penalty.

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Glenn Levant

If you are of a certain age, there’s a good chance that you, or your kids, participated in the DARE program.

DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education , and was launched in 1983 by Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates.

Its first executive director was LAPD deputy chief Glenn Levant.

I met Glenn in 1998, when he and the DARE program published a book called Keeping Kids Drug Free.

So here now, from 1998, Glenn Levant

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Temple Grandin

Why do animals think and behave and react in the ways they do?

Animal behaviorist Temple Grandin has spent a lifetime finding answers. And for her, the journey has been a personal one, as well.

Grandin is autistic, and has found that animal behavior is not unlike that of some people with autism.

I first met her in 2005, when she published her book Animals in Translation.

So here now, from 2005, Temple Grandin.

Temple Grandin is 75 now, and still active in the field of animal behaviorism.

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Al Gore

In the summer of 1992, then US senator Al Gore from Tennessee was thrust into a much more visible public role, when Bill Clinton selected him as his running mate on the Democratic ticket.

That was also about the time Gore published his first book about the environment, a volume called Earth in the balance

And that’s how I met Al Gore, just a few weeks before he was nominated to be vice president.

The day I interviewed him if he had any indication that he was about to be nominated to be on the Clinton ticket, he did a really good job of hiding it.

So here now, from 1992, senator Al Gore.

Al Gore served as vice president under Bill Clinton for 8 years, before seeking the presidency on his own in 2000. He lost that election by a razor thin margin to George w. Bush. Since then, Gore has cemented his reputation as a leading advocate of environmental causes.

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Naomi Wolf

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but in modern western society the beholders are usually men and the men make the rules of that social construct that we call beauty.

That’s the essence. Kind of boil down into my own words of Naomi Wolf’s blockbuster breakthrough 1991 book The Beauty Myth.

The Beauty Myth created some big waves when it was published. In fact, later the New York times even said it was one of the 70 most influential books of the entire century.

But it has also generated a lot of controversy for Naomi Wolf.

I first met her when her first book was published — and I hate to admit it now, but so of my questions now seem a bit naive.

So here now from 1991. Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf is 59. She lives in Washington, DC.

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Harry Hay

In the last 20 years the LGBTQ movement has made enormous social and political strides, but what we sometimes forget is that enormous strides begin with baby steps.

More than seven decades ago, a man who took many of those first baby steps and established the modern gay rights movement was a man named Harry Hay.

Hay knew something about organizing unpopular political movements because as early as the 1930s Hay was a communist — and this was at a time when the Communist party was very homophobic. Hay married a woman and was married for several years before finally acknowledging that he was gay.

By 1950 Harry Hay recognized that the gay and lesbian community — which didn’t even really have a name yet — had rights and needed those rights protected.

Calling up on some of the same skills he used as a communist organizer. Harry Hay started the Mattachine Society. And that, many historians agree, gave rise to the modern gay rights movement.

I met Harry Hay in late 1990. He was the subject of a biography by writer Stuart Timmons called The Trouble With Harry Hay.

So here now from 1990 Stuart Timmons and Harry Hay

Harry Hay died in 2002. He was 90.

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Rachel Robinson

Photo: Kingkongphoto &

A few days ago Ketanji Brown Jackson made history as she was confirmed as the first black female supreme Court Justice.

But 75 years ago today another African American made history, in a way that may have been nearly as significant.

On April 15th. 1947 Jackie Robinson took the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first black man to play in the Major leagues.

And Jackie Robinson was no token. He was voted Rrookie of the Year that year and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player two years later.

By his side during his historic baseball career was his wife, his college sweetheart, Rachel

In the decades after Jackie Robinson’s death in 1972, Rachel Robinson has been a prominent andd influential active and leader in her own right.

In 1996 Rachel Robinson published a book about her late husband and their life together and that’s when I have the chance to meet her, the eve of the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut.

So here now from 1996. Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson will be 100 years old in July. She lives in Connecticut.

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Betty Friedan

The roots of the modern feminist movement can be traced directly back to a single book published nearly 60 years ago.

It was called The Feminine Mystique. Its author was a young would-be journalist named Betty Friedan. It is widely regarded as the spark that lit the fire of the feminist movement.

But that was only the beginning for Betty Friedan. Three years later, she co-founded the National Organization for Women, and was its first president.

She also helped establish the National Womens Political Caucus. And she founded what was then known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, known today simply as NARAL.

In 2000, Friedan wrote a memoir called Life So Far.

This was actually my second interview with her, but the first in which I got to ask more personal questions.

So here now, from 2000, Betty Friedan.

Betty Friedan died on her 85th birthday in 2006.

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Melba Patillo Beals

Photo: Ben Schumin

Imagine a small group of high school students needing armed United States military just to get into school.

In September 1957 9. African American students, the first to enroll at Central high School in Little Rock, Arkansas, were accompanied by armed national guard members

They became known as the Little Rock Nine.

Among them was 15-year-old Melba Patillo, later Melba Patillo Beals. Somehow, she and the rest of a little rock nine escaped any kind of serious physical harm.

I first met her in 1994, when she wrote a memoir of her experience called warriors. Don’t cry.

So here now, from 1994, Melba Patillo Beals.

Melba Patillo Beals is 80 now. She lives in the San Francisco Bay aea.

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