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Friday, April 23, 2021

A talk with Miss America 2016, Renée Fleming, and more women from ‘American Masters’

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On Monday, when my news editor proposed we invite a woman in the news to tell us about her life, I said yes immediately. “My name is Zoe Diamant. I’m 34 years old, I’m running for Congress in Ohio, and I never expected this day.” She was introducing herself to an audience of 6,000, celebrating the 50th anniversary of PBS.

We asked six speakers from each of the current seasons of “American Masters” to tell us about their passions and find out more about their past. Here are some of their answers. Please read more on the problem, and the solution, of telling women’s stories.

Arianna Huffington, vice president of The Huffington Post

“My mom asked me to open an envelope after I got into the room and I opened it to find a plaque saying ‘Starting Early, Proceeding Steadily.’ So I do feel like starting early and proceeding steadily; you can do anything! This documentary made me want to run for Congress, right now.”

Renée Fleming, soprano

“I’m always inspired by the folks who have devoted their life to music; it’s only fitting to continue the dialog that’s taken place over the last 50 years and let people decide for themselves what’s next. One night in 1981, I got invited to go see the West Side Story director Arthur Laurents, who was writing a Broadway show called ‘The Pajama Game.’ [With] the opening of that season, there were 107 other people there, and they all wrote to Arthur and spoke to him about the musical. This is one of those events where the genie of our culture is out there, calling. My hope for this season is that we’ll bring out the words, the beauty and the poetry of women from our arts, our art.”

Sophie Okonedo, actress

“The answer is yes, that does make me want to do [what I’m doing], because women are telling their stories. I mean, today it’s huge, we’re all talking about it. We have entertainment shows and we have politics shows talking about it, and so much has changed in just 50 years.”

Lela Rochon, artist

“What inspired me was the fact that more people are now talking about gender. Most of the women involved are women of color, so it really opens up the conversation.”

Diamant, political candidate

“I was 14 when my mother started writing my letter to ABC, which they lost, and the executive who lost the mistake in the letter had to write to me, too.”

Nina Davuluri, Miss America of 2016

“It’s an honor to be the first African-American woman Miss America.”

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