Writer, Editor & Culture Critic
Roxane Gay is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times whose work appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Harper’s Bazaar, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others.
She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women, and New York Times bestselling Hunger: A Memoir of My Body. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel and the editor of Best American Short Stories 2018.
Gay is currently at work on film and television projects, a book of writing advice, an essay collection about television and culture, and a YA novel entitled The Year I Learned Everything.
Tony®, Emmy®, and Grammy® Award-winning Actress, Singer & Songwriter
Cynthia Erivo is a Tony®, Emmy®, and Grammy® Award-winning actress who burst onto West End and Broadway stages in “The Color Purple” and has already taken the big screen by storm.
Erivo is currently starring as ‘Belle’ in Steve McQueen’s drama, “Widows,” opposite Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki. The film and the cast have received recognition from the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society, and Erivo has been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Awards as part of the ensemble.
Erivo can also be seen in Drew Goddard’s “Bad Times at the El Royale,” for which she received a Washington Area Film Critics Association Award nomination for “Best Supporting Actress.”
For these performances, Erivo was recognized with a BAFTA EE Rising Star Award nomination, honoring actors and actresses who have each shown truly outstanding talent on the big screen and captured the imagination of both the public and the film industry.
In 2019, Erivo will star alongside Daisy Ridley and David Oyelowo in in the highly anticipated sci-fi thriller, “Chaos Walking,” from director Doug Liman. In addition, Erivo recently wrapped production for John Ridley’s “Needle in a Timestack” and Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet”, within which she will bring the legacy of Harriet Tubman to the big screen.
Erivo made her Broadway debut reprising her starring role as ‘Celie’ in the critically acclaimed revival of “The Color Purple.” She first played the role in 2013 at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, earning rave reviews and an Evening Standard Theatre Award® nomination for Best Musical Performance and a WhatsOnStage Award® nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. Her performance on Broadway earned her several awards, including the Tony Award® for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, a Grammy award® as a principal soloist on original cast recording of “The Color Purple” (Best Musical Theater Album), a Daytime Emmy Award® for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program, the Drama Desk Award®, Theatre World®, and Outer Critics Circle Awards®.
In spring 2015, Erivo appeared as ‘Puck’ in the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” directed by Nick Bagnall. In fall 2014, she returned to her classical roots in the Donmar Warehouse's acclaimed all-female production of “Henry IV,” opposite Dame Harriet Walter, directed by Phyllida Lloyd. In summer 2014, she played the lead in the European premiere of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty musical, “Dessa Rose,” at Trafalgar Studios.
Erivo’s additional theatre credits include the Perfect Pitch musical, “Lift,” directed by Steven Paling; Kneehigh Theatre's production of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” at the Gielgud Theatre; the starring role of ‘Deloris Van Cartier’ in the UK tour of Jerry Zaks' production of “Sister Act;” Harry Hill and Simon Cowell's critically acclaimed musical, “I Can't Sing,” at the London Palladium in the West End; Simon Stephens' “Marine Parade,” which premiered at the 2010 Brighton Festival, John Adams' experimental song play, “I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw The Sky,” at Theatre Royal Stratford East; and Dominic Hill's “The Three Musketeers and The Princess of Spain” at Traverse, Belgrade and English Touring theatres.
In addition to her stage career, Erivo is an accomplished performer with symphonies and music spaces including the Kennedy Center Honors, where she sang “The Impossible Dream”, and the 2017 Grammy Awards, where she performed “God Only Knows” with John Legend. She also performed at the Governors Ball, the official post-Oscars celebration, on February 26, 2017 at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles. Her December 2018 performance at the Lincoln Center in New York was filmed for broadcast on PBS, set to air in the spring of 2019, as part of the 17-time Emmy Award-winning series “Live From Lincoln Center Presents Stars in Concert”.
In March 2015, she made her solo concert debut with the show entitled “Hear My Soul” at Kings Place in London. In September 2016, Erivo starred as ‘Cathy’ alongside Joshua Henry in a one-night benefit concert performance of Jason Robert Brown's “The Last Five Years,” with proceeds going to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In February 2017, Erivo performed alongside John Legend at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. She can also be heard on the soundtracks of two films, “Beyond the Lights”, singing her original song “Fly Before You Fall,” and “Jump” for the documentary STEP.
A UK native, Erivo graduated from the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 2010.
Comedian, Writer & Podcaster
Hari Kondabolu is a comedian, writer, and podcaster based in Brooklyn. He has been described by The NY Times as “one of the most exciting political comics in stand-up today.” In 2018, his Netflix special “Warn Your Relatives” was released and he was named one of Variety’s Top 10 Comics To Watch.
Hari has released two comedy albums (“Waiting for 2042” and “Mainstream American Comic”) and has performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, John Oliver’s NY Stand-Up Show, and @Midnight. A former writer and correspondent on the Chris Rock-produced FX show, “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell,” in 2017, Hari released his critically acclaimed documentary, “The Problem with Apu” on truTV.
Hari is a regular on the public radio gameshow “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me" and has appeared on a number of notable radio shows and podcasts, including Fresh Air with Terry Gross, WTF with Marc Maron, 2 Dope Queens, Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Prairie Home Companion, Wits, Studio 360, and Bullseye. He co-hosted the podcast “Politically Reactive” with W. Kamau Bell, and currently co-hosts “The Kondabolu Brothers Podcast” with his brother Ashok, on Earwolf.
In the UK, Hari has established himself with appearances on BBC 3’s Russell Howard’s Good News, Live at the Electric, and Channel 4’s 8 out 10 Cats. He also performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011.
A former immigrant rights organizer in Seattle, Hari earned a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and was named NYU APA Institute’s “Artist in Residence” for the 2014-2015 Academic Year.
Born and raised in Queens, Hari attended Townsend Harris High School, where the school’s mascot, “Hari the Hawk,” was named after him during his senior year. He sometimes fears that his greatest achievement was accomplished at 17.
NYU Professor (Silver School of Social Work) & Human Rights Advocate
Kirk Anthony James is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. He completed his doctorate from the School of Social Policy and Practice at The University of Pennsylvania in May 2013. His dissertation, “The Invisible Epidemic in Social Work Academia,” examined the complex phenomena of mass incarceration through a historical and contemporary lens. He concluded by developing curricula for Master level students to increase awareness, activism and holistic practice in the milieu. Courses developed from his dissertation have been implemented at Columbia University, Temple University, City College, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.
Dr. James’s primary research and publications focus on deconstructing issues of mass incarceration––specifically as it pertains to trauma, cognitive development, culpability, and the examination of systems that foster and perpetuate racial injustice. Dr. James co-created NYU Silver's Re-imagine Justice conference on mass incarceration, re-entry and trauma, and their intersections and implications for social work practice. He also launched the Silver School’s monthly Mass Incarceration Conversation Series (MICS), which brings people impacted by mass incarceration together with academics, activists, policy makers, and practitioners to create a more informed understanding and subsequent response to mass incarceration. In addition, he works collaboratively with the Center For Justice at Columbia University on its annual “Beyond The Bars” conference, which brings impacted people together with academics, activists, policy makers, and practitioners from across the country to create a more informed understanding and response to mass incarceration.
Dr. James has over a decade of leadership experience in various social justice settings, and is a highly sought out speaker and human rights advocate. He has been a consultant on social justice projects from the Caribbean to Africa. At the University of Pennsylvania, he developed and directed the Goldring Reentry Initiative (GRI). The primary goals of the GRI are to identify best practices in reducing recidivism for individuals transitioning from Philadelphia jails, and to train clinical and macro level social work students to work with incarcerated individuals (pre and post release).