What It Takes
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What It Takes is a podcast featuring intimate, revealing conversations with towering figures in almost every field: music, science, sports, politics, film, technology, literature, the military and social justice. These rare interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by The Academy of Achievement. They offer the life stories and reflections of people who have had a huge impact on the world, and insights you can apply to your own life.

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    Louise Glück: Revenge Against Circumstance

    Louise Glück uses simple, unsentimental language in her poems to evoke overwhelming emotions. That rare combination is what has distinguished her as one of America's greatest living poets, for over half a century. In this episode, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, former Poet Laureate of the United States digs into the torment and uncertainty that has hounded her throughout her writing life. She talks about how teaching poetry, which she feared would diminish her art, instead allowed it to flourish. And she describes her obsessive desire to hear music in her ears, and language in her head.

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    Naomi Judd: Dream Chaser

    Naomi Judd's life has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. For eight glorious years, she and her daughter Wynonna were the biggest country music sensation of the 1980's, with fourteen number one hits, sold-out stadium tours, and too many rhinestones to count. But Naomi's life before and since has been far from glamorous. In this episode, she talks about her tumultuous early life in small-town Kentucky and her struggles as a young single mom on welfare. She recounts how singing transformed her relationship with Wynonna, and then took them to the heights of the music industry. And she shares how the devastating disease that brought it all crashing down led her to a place of tremendous insight and gratitude.

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    Rosa Parks and Judge Frank Johnson: Standing Up for Freedom

    In the fall of 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand for a white passenger on the bus, Martin Luther King Jr. was chosen to lead the boycott that followed, and a lawyer named Frank Johnson was appointed to be the first and only federal judge for the middle district of Alabama (also the youngest federal judge in the nation). These three people didn't know each other, and yet, their paths converged in Montgomery, at the crossroads of history. In this episode, you'll hear rare audio of Ms. Parks describing the day of her arrest, and you'll learn the lesser known story of Judge Johnson, a principled and stubborn Southerner from northern Alabama, who issued many of the court decisions decimating segregation throughout the south.

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    Robert Langer: Edison of Medicine

    Some of Robert Langer's inventions sound like the stuff of science fiction: "smart" pills that can release medicine by remote control... organs and bone, coaxed into growing on polymer scaffolds. But these inventions are already in clinical trials, or in development at Langer's Lab at MIT, the largest bioengineering lab in the country. In this episode, Robert Langer talks about the very unconventional route he took from chemical engineer to medical pioneer, and he explains his first discovery, in the 1970's, which led to one of the primary treatments for Cancer.

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    Sally Ride and Eileen Collins: Wonder Women

    Sally Ride was the first American woman to rocket into space. Eileen Collins was the first woman to command the Space Shuttle. These two astronauts changed history and broke a very high glass ceiling for little girls. But they traveled different paths to get to NASA and achieve their dreams. Sally Ride graduated from an elite private school in Los Angeles and earned a doctorate in Physics at Stanford, while Eileen Collins was raised in public housing in upstate New York and joined the U.S. Air Force, where she became a test pilot. In this episode, both women talk about the obstacles they overcame to reach the highest of heights.

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    Frank McCourt: Teacher Man

    No one could tell a story better than Frank McCourt. His first book, Angela's Ashes, remains one of the most compelling accounts of poverty, alcoholism, and the longing for a better life. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and transformed McCourt from a modest immigrant and a lifelong high school teacher, into a literary celebrity. In this episode, you'll hear McCourt hold forth with tremendous humor and that lyrical voice - about the miseries of his childhood in Ireland, as well as his passion for teaching and writing.

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    Leslie Wexner: Victoria's Other Secret

    This is the story of Les Wexner's path, from a tiny, old-fashioned neighborhood store in Columbus, Ohio, owned by his immigrant father... to one of the biggest retail empires in the world. His company, L Brands, now includes that lingerie giant, Victoria's Secret, as well as Bath & Body Works, and Henri Bendel. But Wexner helped innovate the very idea of a specialty clothing chain store, with his first business: The Limited. Wexner has been CEO longer than any other head of a Fortune 500 Company, and at almost 80, he's still not slowing down.

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    Nora Ephron: Unstoppable Wit

    Nora Ephron knew just how to make people laugh and cry and kvell. But mostly laugh. She wrote some of greatest romantic comedies of all time, including "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle". She was a successful director and producer too, in an industry not very hospitable to women. In this episode, Ephron shares the most important lesson she learned from her mother: that all pain is fodder for a good story. She explains why becoming a journalist was the best thing she ever did. And she tells stories from her later career in Hollywood, including the one about how the famous faked-orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally" came about.

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    Bill Russell: Giant of a Man

    The most astonishing winning streak in the history of sports, belonged to the Boston Celtics. They won eleven championships between 1957 and 1969, eight of those in a row. And the player at the center of those wins - was Bill Russell. He changed the game of basketball, with his incredible speed, and his ability to block shots as no player had done before. When he took over as coach of the Celtics (while still playing on the team), he became the first African-American coach of any major sport in the U.S. In this episode, Russell talks about his life in basketball, and he describes how he was shaped by the racism he confronted, on and off the court.

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    Sonia Sotomayor: Power of Words

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor tells the extraordinary story of her voyage from the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States, to the highest court in the land -- a voyage fueled by the power of words. In a wide-ranging conversation with NPR's Nina Totenberg, recorded at the Supreme Court in 2016, Sotomayor shares her earliest memories of life in the tenements of the South Bronx: her diagnosis with diabetes, her trips to the market with her beloved grandmother, her father's death, and her love affair with books. She also talks about how she learned to learn, and to rely on the wisdom of friends and colleagues -- skills that carried her through Princeton, Yale, her prestigious legal career, and one beautiful throw from the pitcher's mound.

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