What It Takes
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Revealing, intimate conversations with visionaries and leaders in the arts, science, technology, public service, sports and business. These engaging personal stories are drawn from interviews with the American Academy of Achievement, and offer insights you’ll want to apply to your own life.

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    Sue Grafton: The Alphabet Ends at Y

    Sue Grafton wrote a mystery for every letter of the alphabet but one. When she died in December of 2017, she left her fans with the ultimate cliffhanger: there would be no book for the letter Z. In this fascinating and funny interview, she talked about facing her fears every day when she sat down to write. And she explained how a difficult childhood and a miserable divorce paved the way for one of the most successful mystery series of all time. Her books were published in 26 languages, and spent a total of eight years on the New York Times bestseller list.

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    Maya Lin: The Art of Remembrance

    When Maya Lin’s design was chosen for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1981, it sparked a political firestorm in Washington. The design was almost quashed, but Maya Lin - only 21 at the time - fought for her vision and prevailed. Lin talks about how she has continued to pursue her unique artistic vision ever since, whether designing monuments, buildings or sculptures, and she shines a light on her creative process.

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    Edward Teller: Destroyer of Worlds

    The "Father of the Hydrogen Bomb", the force behind Reagan's Star Wars initiative, and the model for "Dr. Strangelove" was a Hungarian math prodigy who fled Hitler's Germany. In America, he became one of the scientific minds behind the creation of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, in a race against the Nazi war machine. Teller's story is told here in his own voice, and by many of the other leading scientists from the dawn of the nuclear age.

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    Anthony M. Kennedy: Principles of Freedom

    Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the deciding vote in critical Supreme Court cases - from abortion to campaign finance to same-sex marriage - talks about his path to the judiciary. He also eloquently describes his devotion to the ideals of freedom and human dignity, and to civil discourse, in an era when it is more badly needed than ever.

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    Jimmy Page: Guitar Hero

    Jimmy Page’s plan all along was to transform rock n’ roll. And he did. The band he founded, Led Zeppelin, remains one of the most influential and popular rock bands in history. Page is one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His epic onstage solos, on hits like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir,” are legendary. And he was just as innovative as a producer. On this episode Page talks about how he fell in love with American blues music, how he learned to play the guitar, and how his days as a session musician prepared him to upend the conventions of studio recording. He also walks us through some of the Led Zeppelin songs he loves best.

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    Itzhak Perlman: The Gift of Music

    For the past 60 years - ever since he made his American debut at 13 - Itzhak Perlman has made classical music fans swoon. He is not only one of the greatest violinists of all time, but also a charming and passionate champion of the music. On this episode, Perlman talks about falling in love with the violin at the age of 3, contracting polio (and losing use of his legs) at 4, and emigrating from Israel to the United States at 13, after an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. He recalls some of his favorite performances, as well one where he forgot to play an entire movement and had to vamp! And, he talks about why music sometimes moves us to tears.

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    Ernest J. Gaines: Letters of My Ancestors

    Ernest Gaines grew up in the 1930's and 40's on the same Louisiana plantation where his ancestors were once slaves. After he became a successful and celebrated novelist, he returned, bought the land, and lives there even now. The voices he heard as a child, telling stories on the porch or around the fire, are the voices that populate his novels: "A Lesson Before Dying," "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," "A Gathering of Old Men," and others. In this episode, Gaines describes the path that led him from picking cotton, to falling in love with literature, to writing award-winning novels. At the same time, he shares his profound feelings about the limitations of that success.

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    Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter: Jazz Invention

    Esperanza Spalding - bass player, composer, lyricist and singer - is one of the most exciting artists in contemporary jazz. Wayne Shorter is a legendary saxophonist and composer whose career began in the bebop era of the 1950's, and has continued until today. He began playing with Art Blakey, became part of Miles Davis' groundbreaking quintet, and then formed one of the most influential fusion jazz bands, "Weather Report." Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding are from different jazz eras and from different sides of the country, but they have become friends and artistic soulmates, who share many of the same views about making music and the creative process.

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    Leon Panetta: Decisive Action

    The last time the budget of the United States was balanced - and even had a surplus - Leon Panetta was in charge of it, as Director of the Office of Management & Budget. From the Nixon years through the Obama Administration, Panetta had a large, firm, warm-hearted hand in the government of the United States... leading Congressional committees, OMB, the staff of the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon. You could call him the ultimate public servant. On this episode he shares stories from every period of his government career, and he explains how they were all informed by his experiences growing up the child of Italian immigrants.

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    James Earl Jones: The Voice of Triumph

    When James Earl Jones speaks, his voice reverberates so deeply that you can almost feel it in your own chest. Think Darth Vader. For 60 years now, Jones has been captivating audiences with that voice and with his commanding presence -- on stage and on screen. In this episode, he talks about how he overcame a stutter that silenced him for years. He explains how the radicalism of the 1960's changed the world of acting, and opened the door to his success. And he describes how growing up on a humble farm taught him to treasure contentment over happiness.

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