Program Topics & Guests

2017 Season

Boston's "Invisible Billionaire"

Guest: Gerald Chan

Gerald Chan has kept a low profile while making big real estate deals in Hong Kong, Cambridge, and Boston. As he's built his business, he's also built a reputation for philanthropy, giving $350 million and his family's name to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This week on Commonwealth Journal, we talk with Chan about what he sees in Boston's future.

Air Date: June 4, 2017

When Poetry Meets Politics

Guest: Jill McDonough, poet

If you haven't touched a book of poetry since 12th grade, maybe it's time to take another look. Poet and MFA program director Jill McDonough talks about the intersection of poetry, politics, and action on Commonwealth Journal.

Air Date: May 28, 2017

Family Secrets Surface in The Salt House

Guest: Lisa Duffy, novelist

A family in crisis, a half-finished house by the sea, and a decades-old feud boiling over swirl together in Lisa Duffy’s novel, The Salt House. This week on Commonwealth Journal, we dive into this family story, set in Downeast Maine.

Air Date: May 21, 2017

How Civic Deserts Alienate Youth

Guests: Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Felicia Sullivan, researchers

According to a recent study, 60% of millennials in the United States lack access to a political life. Researchers Felicia Sullivan and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg have found a link between our disappearing libraries, schools, and community centers – and a dramatic change in how young people feel about themselves and their government.

Air Date: May 14, 2017

Hugo Nominee Max Gladstone and the Rules of Magic

Guest: Max Gladstone, novelist

If John Grisham’s novels took place in another dimension, they might look something like the Craft Sequence. Author Max Gladstone’s Hugo nominated book series follows magical investigators as they tackle cases involving murdered gods, skeleton kings, and demon infestations.  

Air Date: May 7, 2017

Barbara Lynch, Boston's Master Chef

Guest: Barbara Lynch, chef and restaurateur

Before Barbara Lynch was the owner of more than half a dozen award winning restaurants, before she earned multiple James Beard awards, before she even picked up a chef's knife - she was another kid growing up in Southie. In her new memoir, Out of Line, Barbara Lynch tells the story of her life and her career.

Air Date: April 30, 2017

Knights, Dragons, and One Epic Tale

Guests: M.T. Anderson, novelist

Author M.T. Anderson has told stories about teen romance on the moon and African slaves on the eve of the American revolution. With Yvain: Knight of the Lion, he turns back the clock to King Arthur's court. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with M.T. Anderson about his new graphic novel.

Air Date: April 23, 2017

What's Next for the Labor Movement?

Guests: Steve Striffler, Director of the UMass Boston Labor Resource Center, and Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO

Unions have been a defining force in American political life for decades. But recently, there have been many challenges to unions' power. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Steve Striffler of UMass Boston's Labor Resource Center, and Steven Tolman of the AFL-CIO about the rise of the gig economy, restrictions on public-sector unions, and what it all means for our region and our nation.

Air Date: April 16, 2017

Redefining Family in The Guys Next Door

Guests: Amy Geller and Allie Humenuk

The film The Guys Next Door takes an in-depth look at what family means -- whether you are a parent, a child, a partner, or a friend. Over three years, filmmakers Amy Geller and Allie Humenuk followed Erik and Sandro, a gay couple, and their friend Rachel, who is pregnant with the couple's second child. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks to Allie and Amy about this intimate portrait of modern family life.

Air Date: April 9. 2017

From Solitary to the Stage

Guest: Julia Steele Allen, playwright and activist

Sara Mariposa Fonseca spent more than two years in solitary confinement in a California prison. Her letters to her friend Julia Steele Allen were one of the only links she had to the outside world. Now, Julia is telling Mariposa's story on stage. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Julia Steele Allen about creating and performing Mariposa and the Saint.

Air Date: April 2, 2017

Asian Americans in Politics

Guest: Paul Watanabe, Director of the Institute for Asian American Studies, UMass Boston

Maybe you've been following George Takei's political Facebook posts, or maybe you've seen the comparisons made between Japanese internment during World War II and the calls for a Muslim registry. Asian Americans, and the issues that matter to them, are in the political spotlight. With help from political scientist Paul Watanabe, we're taking a look back on the political forces that have shaped the Asian American experience in the U.S. – and looking forward to see what the future might hold.

Air Date: March 26, 2017

Untangling Middle East Foreign Policy

Guest: Leila Farsakh, professor of political science, UMass Boston

President Trump has promised to fight ISIS abroad, and he has also promised a less interventionist stance than his predecessors. What could Trump's foreign policy mean for American interests in the Middle East? Political economist Leila Farsakh helps us understand the context for U.S. foreign policy.

Air Date: March 19, 2017

We're Not Gonna Take It: Politics and Protest

Guest: Erin O'Brien, Chair, Political Science Department, UMass Boston

Is protest really effective? From Tea Partiers to the Women's March to Town Hall Meetings, we take a look at what forms of protest get politicians to sit up and take notice. Political scientist Erin O'Brien helps us sort through the memes, polls, boycotts, and marches.

Air Date: March 5, 2017

The Politics of Anger

Guest: Michael Milburn, psychologist and author of Raised to Rage: The Politics of Anger and the Roots of Authoritarianism

If there's one emotion that characterizes the last year in politics, it's anger. Michael Milburn and Sheree Conrad examined political anger and authoritarianism back in 1996, and they're back to reexamine connections between political rage and the popularity of authoritarian figures.

Air Date: February 26, 2017

Mel King Still Believes in a Rainbow Coalition

Guest: Mel King, activist and former state legislator

Mel King has spent most of his life in Boston's South End neighborhood. Famous for his 1983 run for mayor that was supported by a "Rainbow Coalition," King still believes that the best way to lead is to reach across racial, economic, and religious lines. King is this year's recipient of the Building a Better Boston award, and he spoke to Commonwealth Journal from the South End Technology Center.

Air Date: February 19, 2017

After Trauma, Can Mindfulness Help?

Guest: Stephanie Hartwell, sociologist

From victims of violent crime to former inmates, Stephanie Hartwell believes that mindfulness techniques can help traumatized people to move forward. We'll examine what makes mindfulness effective, and how it can change lives and communities.

Air Date: February 12, 2017

Menstruation Mythbusting

Guest: Chris Bobel, Associate Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at UMass Boston

Half the world experiences it - but no one wants to talk about it. Menstruation researcher Chris Bobel talks about the stigma around periods - and new technologies that are changing how we view our own bodies.

Air Date: January 29, 2017

Climate Change: How We Know What We Know

Guest: Robyn Hannigan, Dean of the School for the Environment at UMass Boston

Not sure if climate change has hit your hometown? Trying to distinguish fact from fiction? Environmental science expert Robyn Hannigan catches us up on the latest climate news.

Air date: January 22, 2017

From City Hall to the Senate Floor: Women of Color are Ready to Run

Guest: Carol Hardy-Fanta, author of Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America

In the wake of Donald Trump's surprising win, pundits are scratching their heads. Was America just not "ready" for a female president? Is this a backlash to the first ever black President of the United States? According to Carol Hardy-Fanta, whether the country is "ready" or not, women and minorities are transforming the American political landscape. Hardy-Fanta shares her data-driven analysis of political leadership in a new book, Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America. 

Air date: January 15, 2017

Eyes in the Sky: Drones in the Military

Guest: Sonia Kennebeck, director of National Bird

Today, a soldier sitting in Nevada can execute an air strike halfway around the world. Drone warfare is an increasingly important part of U.S. military strategy - and one that is shrouded in secrecy. Documentarian Sonia Kennebeck digs deep into the world of military drones in her new film, National Bird, exploring the untold consequences of drone strikes on U.S. soldiers and foreign victims.

Air date: January 1, 2017

2016 Season

The Best and Worst of Pop Culture 2016

Guest: Rachel Rubin

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the year of Hamilton Mania, it was the year of Suicide Squad. Join host Anna Fisher-Pinkert and guest Rachel Rubin for a round up of the best and worst pop culture moments of 2016.

Cozy Up with a Good Book and a Danish Prince

Guest: Molly Booth

Need a mental vacation this winter? You could travel through time with high schooler Emma Allen to save Shakespeare's original production of Hamlet. Host Anna Fisher Pinkert talks with Molly Booth, author of Saving Hamlet.

Out of Many, One? Immigration in American History

Guest: Monica Pelayo

Is America a "nation of immigrants," or is it a nation designed to keep outsiders apart? Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with historian Monica Pelayo about the history of immigration in the 20th century, and parallels to the past in our contemporary immigration debates.

In the Crosshairs: Why Mass Shootings Happen

Guest: Louis Klarevas

Newtown. Aurora. San Bernadino. Orlando. After every mass shooting, there's one lingering question: Why? In his book, Rampage Nation, Louis Klarevas examines the stories and statistics behind the most violent attacks of the last decade. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Klarevas about his new book, and why he thinks gun control is the solution to preventing mass shootings in the future.

Racism, Fear and Getting Help

Guest: Tahirah Abdullah

In the last year, incidents of racism in the workplace, in neighborhoods, in Hollywood, and on the presidential campaign trail have all made headlines. What are the long term mental health impacts of experiencing racism? Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with professor of psychology Tahirah Abdullah about mental illness, stigma, racism, and more.

Getting On, and Staying Put

Guest: Jan Mutchler

Can seniors age in place in a city where the next snowpocalypse is right around the corner, where public transit is sometimes unreliable, and where housing costs are on the rise? Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with gerontology professor Jan Mutchler about our region's growing elderly population.

Veterans' Stories, In their Own Words

Guests: Charles McGee, George Hardy, and Jean Rhodes

For our Veterans' Day show, Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Charles McGee and George Hardy, two veterans of the famous Tuskegee Airmen. Then, Anna talks to Jean Rhodes, a professor who has created a new app to help veterans tell their own stories.


Guest: James Young

Memorials are supposed to help us to reflect on history – but what should they look like? Is there a right way to remember events like the Holocaust or September 11? Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with James Young, who was a juror for the September 11 Memorial design competition, about some of the startling, moving, and haunting spaces he has helped to create.

A Night at the Opera

Guest: Lloyd Schwartz

Beyond the big costumes and vocal pyrotechnics, there's a lot to love about the opera scene today. Really! Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Lloyd Schwartz joins host Anna Fisher-Pinkert for a friendly introduction to a heady musical genre.

Undocumented and Undaunted

Guest: Angy Rivera

Estimates say there are 11 million undocumented people in America today. At 24, Angy Rivera came out as one of them. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks to Angy about a documentary that follows her experience, Don't Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie).

A First Lady's Second Love

Guest: Susan Quinn

One came from wealth and privilege, the other from poverty. One was the niece of one president and the wife of another, the other was a reporter for the Associated Press. Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with author Susan Quinn about the unlikely romance between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena "Hick" Hickock, subject of the new book Eleanor and Hick.

Power Up

Guest: David Cash

We'd all like to live in a utopian future where jobs are plentiful and pollution is nonexistent. But is that future coming? Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with dean of the McCormack Graduate School about clean energy, the economy, and the tough choices ahead.

A Look Inside Chinese Orphanages

Guest: Leslie Wang

Since the 1990's, tens of thousands of babies and children have been adopted from China into Western families. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with sociologist Leslie Wang about what life is like for Chinese children in state-run orphanages, and the complex relationship between the Chinese government and American nonprofits.

Our Urban Future

Guest: Ken Reardon

Most Americans live in cities, and that's not changing any time soon. But cities have to do more than house people. Residents need jobs, transportation, sanitation, education, and entertainment. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with urban planner Ken Reardon about how Boston can retain its character while planning for the future.

Boston's Hip Hop Heritage

Guest: Pacey Foster

In the mid-1980's, DJ Magnus Johnstone played music from Boston's up and coming hip-hop artists, before they made it big. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Pacey Foster, who is preserving the legacy of Boston hip-hop.

For the Birds

Guest: Neil Hayward

Birder Neil Hayward didn't mean to break any records - but after a full year chasing after some of the rarest birds in North America, he wound up spotting a whopping 749 birds in one very Big Year. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Hayward about his new book, Lost Among the Birds.

Out of Office

Guest: Randy Albelda

Americans have some of the fewest vacation days and longest hours of workers in industrialized nations. For many workers, paid time off to care for a new baby or an aging parent is a pipe dream. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with economist Randy Albelda about why Americans have so little paid time off.

Air Date: 9/4/16

The State of Transgender Rights in Massachusetts

Guest: Mason Dunn

This is the year that politicians and journalists focused new attention to the transgender rights movement. While North Carolina and other states consider so-called "bathroom bills," Massachusetts' legislature is considering furthering anti trans discrimination laws. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks to educator and activist Mason Dunn, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, about the political scene, the law, and the trans community.

Air Date: 6/26/16

Gender Equality in Tech

Guests: Banu Ozkazanc-Pan and Tom Hopcroft

Jobs in technology are a major part of Massachusetts' economy. But women don't always have the easiest paths to successful careers in tech. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Management Professor Banu Ozkazanc-Pan and MassTLC President and CEO Tom Hopcroft about gender and the tech sector.

Air Date: 6/19/16

The Women Who Rocked NASA

Guest: Nathalia Holt

You know about the NASA astronauts who left Earth's orbit and finally took the first steps on the moon. But what do you know about the women who got them there? Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Nathalia Holt, author of Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, about the human "computers" who made NASA's space program possible.

Air Date: 6/12/16

Congressman Seth Moulton 

Guest: Seth Moulton

Congressman Seth Moulton is in his first term representing Massachusetts' 6th district. He talks with host Anna Fisher-Pinkert about issues ranging from health care for veterans and education to foreign policy and the presidential election.

Air Date: 6/5/16

Immigration and the Bay State

Guest: Eduardo Siqueira

Professor of Community Development and Planning Eduardo Siqueira talks with host Anna Fisher-Pinkert about immigration in Boston and beyond. Who are Boston’s immigrants? And how do local and national policies affect their lives here in the city? 

Air Date: 5/15/16

Young Writers, Fresh Voices

Guest: Deanna Elliot

The Marble Collection publishes the Massachusetts High School Magazine of the Arts, a platform for young writers and artists to express their creativity. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert speaks with The Marble Collection's founder, Deanna Elliot, and two young writers whose works have been published in the latest edition of the magazine.

Air Date: 5/8/16

An Advocate for Peace

Guest: Padraig O'Malley

Padraig O'Malley has played a role in peacemaking in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Iraq. His approach, inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous, is to bring together people from divided societies to help each other live differently. A new documentary about O'Malley's life, titled The Peacemaker, has its New England debut on April 28 at the Brattle Theatre. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks to O'Malley about his work advocating for peace around the world.

Air Date: 5/1/16

Digging into Boston's Past

Guest: Joe Bagley

Almost everywhere you look in Boston, there's history just beneath the surface. Archaeological digs in Boston have turned up everything from bowling balls to fish hooks - and each one has a story. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Joe Bagley, Boston's city archaeologist, about his new book A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts, and a new dig on the site of Malcolm X's childhood home.

Air Date: 4/24/16

Life After Prison in Beyond the Wall

Guest: Bestor Cram

For men who have spent years in the prison system, it isn't easy to start over on the outside. A new documentary, Beyond the Wall, explores the lives of formerly incarcerated men living in Lowell and Lawrence. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with director Bestor Cram about his new film, which debuts as part of the Boston International Film Festival on May 1st at the Somerville Theatre.

Air Date: 4/17/16

When I'm 67: American Retirement at Risk

Guest: Christian Weller

Retirement should be a time to kick back and relax - but for more and more Americans, retirement is a time of financial stress and uncertainty. Politicians and policy experts are at odds about how to make a financially secure retirement possible for all Americans. Professor Christian Weller joins host Anna Fisher-Pinkert and shares insight from his book Retirement on the Rocks: Why Americans Can't Get Ahead and How New Savings Policies Can Help

Air Date: 4/10/16

The Aura of War

Guest: Minoo Emami

Artist Minoo Emami survived the Iran-Iraq war, and her art is inspired by the long-term impacts of that conflict, and of violent conflicts around the world. Working with other Iranian women artists, Emami transforms prosthetic limbs into beautiful objects. Emami joins host Anna Fisher-Pinkert for a conversation about art, war, and memory.

Air Date: 4/3/16

Is Boston a Resilient City?

Guest: Atyia Martin

In 2015, Mayor Walsh joined the 100 Resilient Cities Program, and appointed Atyia Martin as the city’s first ever Chief Resilience Officer. Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with Martin about her mission to make Boston a more resilient city by making it more socially, economically, and racially inclusive.

Air Date: 3/27/16

Addiction, Recovery, and the Opioid Crisis

Guest: Bill Carlo

More than 1,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2014, and those numbers are rising. Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert speaks with Bill Carlo, director of UMass Boston’s Addictions Counselor Education Program, about the opioid addiction crisis in Massachusetts.

Air Date: 3/20/16

Are We Teaching Science Wrong?

Guest: Arthur Eisenkraft

Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are predicted to grow exponentially in the next 20 years. Are our schools ready to teach kids what they need to know to be successful in STEM? Education expert Arthur Eisenkraft joins host Anna Fisher-Pinkert for a conversation about curiosity, creativity, and accountability in science education. Listen Now!
Air Date: 3/13/16

Stormy Weather Ahead

Guest: Ellen Douglas

Seas are rising. The planet is warming. Experts say that the threat of extreme weather will increase exponentially in the decades to come. Could a Sandy-like superstorm happen here in Boston? And if that storm hits, will Boston be prepared? Host Anna Fisher-Pinkert talks with scientist Ellen Douglas about climate change and Boston's future. Listen Now!

Air Date: 3/6/16

2016 Election

Guest: Mo Cunningham

On the eve of the Iowa caucus, host Anna Fisher-Pinkert speaks with Mo Cunningham, professor of political science at UMass Boston, about national, state, and local politics. Are voters getting "bamboozled" by outsider candidates? Are the pollsters pulling a fast one on the public? Cunningham gets to the heart of the matter on Commonwealth JournalListen Now!

Air date: 1/31/16

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