Terry Gross

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gross, who has been host of Fresh Air since 1975, when it was broadcast only in greater Philadelphia, isn't afraid to ask tough questions. But Gross sets an atmosphere in which her guests volunteer the answers rather than surrendering them. What often puts those guests at ease is Gross' understanding of their work. "Anyone who agrees to be interviewed must decide where to draw the line between what is public and what is private," Gross says. "But the line can shift, depending on who is asking the questions. What puts someone on guard isn't necessarily the fear of being 'found out.' It sometimes is just the fear of being misunderstood."

Gross began her radio career in 1973 at public radio station WBFO in Buffalo, New York. There she hosted and produced several arts, women's and public affairs programs, including This Is Radio, a live, three-hour magazine program that aired daily. Two years later, she joined the staff of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia as producer and host of Fresh Air, then a local, daily interview and music program. In 1985, WHYY-FM launched a weekly half-hour edition of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which was distributed nationally by NPR. Since 1987, a daily, one-hour national edition of Fresh Air has been produced by WHYY-FM. The program is broadcast on 566 stations and became the first non-drive time show in public radio history to reach more than five million listeners each week in fall 2008, a presidential election season. In fall 2011, Fresh Air reached 4.4 million listeners a week.

Fresh Air with Terry Gross has received a number of awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 1994 for its "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insight." America Women in Radio and Television presented Gross with a Gracie Award in 1999 in the category of National Network Radio Personality. In 2003, she received the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Edward R. Murrow Award for her "outstanding contributions to public radio" and for advancing the "growth, quality and positive image of radio." In 2007, Gross received the Literarian Award. In 2011, she received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community.

Gross is the author of All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians and Artists, published by Hyperion in 2004.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gross received a bachelor's degree in English and M.Ed. in communications from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Gross was recognized with the Columbia Journalism Award from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2008 and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Princeton University in 2002. She received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1993 and Doctor of Humane Letters in 2007, both from SUNY–Buffalo. She also received a Doctor of Letters from Haverford College in 1998 and Honorary Doctor of Letters from Drexel University in 1989.

Editor's note: This interview mentions suicidal ideations.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

As coronavirus cases continue to surge both in the U.S. and around the world, there's promising news on the vaccine front.

Former President Barack Obama still has faith in the American system. Even as his successor, Donald Trump, refuses to acknowledge defeat in the recent presidential election, Obama maintains: "I don't believe democracy's broken."

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Actor Gillian Anderson says lying about her age helped her land the role that first made her famous. Anderson was just 24 — but claimed to be 27 — on her initial audition for the role of Dana Scully, a doctor investigating paranormal phenomena on The X-Files.

"I had no experience whatsoever. I had only ever done a couple of plays and scenes in college," Anderson says. "If [Scully] comes across as being a little bit cocky and at the same time green, it's all real. It's me trying to pretend like I know that I am the person that I say I am."

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Presidents typically reserve their most controversial decisions for their last weeks in office, writes my guest, journalist Garrett Graff. He says, so imagine what might happen in a post-election period when Donald Trump, a president who has spent four years demonstrating his lack of interest in norms and practices of a democracy, retains all the powers and authority of the presidency and officially has nothing left to lose.

Food science writer Harold McGee was in the middle of writing Nose Dive, his book about the science of smell, when he woke up one morning and realized that he couldn't smell his own coffee.

Loss of smell has since become associated with COVID-19. In McGee's case, it was the byproduct of a sinus infection. McGee remembers feeling panicked.

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In the 2019 Women's World Cup finals, when the final whistle blew and the U.S. team stormed the field in celebration, thousands of fans chanted, "Equal pay! Equal Pay!"

The U.S. Women's National Team, co-captained by Megan Rapinoe, has been a symbol of gender equality ever since they filed a lawsuit in March 2019 against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging pay discrimination.

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Our guest today, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, is one of this year's recipients of a MacArthur Fellowship. She was cited for, quote, "using manifold powers of interpretation to infuse jazz standards and original compositions with a vibrant, global, Black, feminist sensibility," unquote. Her repertoire ranges from jazz standards to forgotten old songs and includes show tunes and originals.

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This election has not only been a political contest, it's been a stress test of our election system and how it holds up in a divisive time, a time of disinformation and a time when the president was unwilling to say that he'd accept the vote if he lost and peacefully hand over power. The election that could break America is how my guest, Barton Gellman, described it in an article published in the November issue of The Atlantic.

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

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As a young man, Joe Biden was fixated on a singular goal: "On his first date with his future wife, he told her mother that he wanted to grow up to be president," New Yorker writer Evan Osnos says.

Osnos, who writes about the Democratic presidential candidate in his new book, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, notes that the 2020 election represents Biden's third bid for the presidency.

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NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg has spent decades covering major shifts in the Supreme Court and breaking major stories about the court. Watching Judge Amy Coney Barrett's Senate confirmation hearings, Totenberg was struck by the nominee's reticence.

"There was almost nothing she was willing to say about anything," Totenberg says. "Amy Coney Barrett takes the crown for unresponsiveness."

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Last week baseball lost one of its most memorable players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Our guest today is Gloria Steinem, who is having quite a year being portrayed on film and TV by various actresses. In April, FX on Hulu presented the miniseries "Mrs. America," a dramatization of the battle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. And next Wednesday, Amazon Prime Video presents a new movie called "The Glorias" directed by Julie Taymor who directed the film "Frida" and the Broadway musical version of "The Lion King."

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