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Tavis Talks: A Q&A with Tavis Smiley

By Michelle Michalos
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
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Since the debut of his national, nightly talk show in 2004, Tavis Smiley has engaged and enlightened audiences with programs featuring politicians, entertainers, athletes, authors, and newsmakers ranging from Sidney Poitier and Carol Burnett to Bill Moyers and President Barack Obama. And now, in 2011, as he embarks on his 20th anniversary in broadcasting, he will continue his award-winning program through a new co-production partnership with WNET.ORG.

THIRTEEN spoke with Smiley to celebrate this exciting new partnership.

Q: Through the Tavis Smiley Foundation, you work closely with youth. How does that inform the guests you invite and the issues you tackle on your daily show?

A: I’m constantly thinking about the future. I have grave concerns about the decay of our civilization and the devolution of our culture. So not a day goes by when I don’t think about my own nine brothers and sisters (most all of them younger) and the young people we work with daily through our Foundation. My hope for and belief in them informs and inspires my choices almost daily.

Q: Which three living African Americans have influenced you the most in your life and career?

A: Joyce Smiley, Emory G. Smiley, and Cornel West.

Q: In 2009, Time magazine named you one of the “The World’s 100 Most Influential People.” If you could use your influence to resolve one issue in the world, what would it be?

A: In a word, poverty. The gap between the “have gots” and the “have nots” continues to grow in this country. I shudder to think of what will ultimately happen if we continue to ignore the plight of the poor and the weak working class here in America.

Q: Given the challenges facing public television today, why does public television still matter?

A: Put simply, there are certain questions that don’t get asked if we don’t ask them; certain issues that don’t get raised if we don’t raise them; and certain persons who will not get profiled if we don’t profile them. I believe public television is at its best when we challenge folk to reexamine the assumptions they hold, help them to expand their inventory of ideas, and introduce Americans to each other.

Q: What are your favorite places to visit when you’re in New York?

A: Wow, there are so many! I always try to check in on my friend Wynton Marsalis over at Jazz @ Lincoln Center. If something’s jumping off at Dizzy’s or The Blue Note, I start begging for tickets. New York is such a great sports town, so I always check who has a home game before I arrive to see if I can sneak in a game or two. And, of course, there’s always a Broadway show to see. But most importantly, I schedule nightly, intimate dinner parties with friends all over the city at my favorite restaurants.

Q: You’re an avid reader, as well as the publisher of SmileyBooks, a co-publishing venture with Hay House. What book are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to people?

A: As they say, reading is fundamental! I’m currently reading Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms. As for my recommendation, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns.

Q: Of all the interviews you’ve conducted for Tavis Smiley, which was the most memorable?

A: That’s easy, the most memorable conversation has yet to be conducted. What I love most about the work that I do on public television is that on any given day, I’m likely to walk into a memorable moment that takes my breath away. I live for that, which is why I’m always so anxious to get to the studio.

Watch Tavis Smiley weeknights at midnight on THIRTEEN.

Learn more at thirteen.org/tavis.