Alison Stewart

How do we explain hoarders, pack rats, and our societal love of junk?

Author of First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar and Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair with Stuff

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Alison Stewart | Author of First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar and Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair with Stuff
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Alison Stewart brings a sharp lens to today’s biggest issues. In First Class, she chronicles the rise, fall, and resurgence of America’s first black public high school, examining the pitfalls of the education system and the importance of grit and perseverance. And in Junk, she dives into America’s obsession with ‘stuff,’ detailing—and offering solutions to—our overburdened consumer culture. 

Alison Stewart is the author of First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School, a Mother Jones and Essence Magazine Best Book of 2013. “Stewart’s history of a single school also manages to tell the story of black DC, of school desegregation, and of education reform. One need not be a Washington native or a Dunbar grad to appreciate this thought-provoking and thoroughly pleasant history” (Library Journal, starred review). Her new book Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff investigates consumer culture and our obsession with “stuff”: a delightful journey through 250-mile-long yard sales and packrat dens, both human and rodent, that for most readers will look surprisingly familiar. 


“In First Class, Alison Stewart skillfully chronicles the rise and fall of Dunbar High School, America’s first black public high school. Recalling the institution’s extraordinary legacy and the lives of its accomplished alumni—her own parents included—Stewart will convince you that there’s cause for hope, and that the school’s brightest days may still be ahead.”

— President Bill Clinton

Stewart is also a highly sought-after MC, host, and moderator: she has moderated panels at the 92nd Street Y, The World Science Forum, Education Nation Summit, and The Connecticut Forum, among others. During her more than two decades as a journalist, Stewart has reported for 60 Minutes, CBS News Sunday Morning, Good Morning America, and 20/20 Downtown. She served as anchor for ABC News World News Now and received an Emmy as part of ABC News’ coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She founded NPR’s breakthrough multiplatform news program The Bryant Park Project and also created the MSNBC show The Most. She began her career as a producer/reporter for MTV News’ groundbreaking political coverage Choose or Lose, for which she won a Peabody Award. Most recently she was the host of the debut TED Radio Hour on NPR, which was awarded Best Audio Podcast by the editors of iTunes in 2012. 


“Absorbing and enjoyably compelling research on the packrat conundrum in our society.”

Kirkus Reviews on Junk

Over the years, Alison has reported from the floor of six presidential conventions. She anchored major news events from Hurricane Katrina to the shootings at Virginia Tech. She has reported from Africa, Cuba, and Jordan, and reported live from the winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. She has interviewed newsmakers including President Bill Clinton, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Bono, Newt Gingrich, and Steven Spielberg. She was recently elected to the Board of Trustees of Brown University, her Alma Mater, and received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Bloomfield College for her work on the frontlines of some of the world’s top news stories of the past two decades.   

Speech Topics

Arts & Pop Culture
Junk Obsessed The Pleasures and Pains of Consumer Culture

Why do smart, successful people hold on to old Christmas bows, chipped knick-knacks, and books they will likely never re-read? In this fascinating keynote—based on her new book, Junk—journalist Alison Stewart offers audiences an inside look at America’s basements, closets, and garages, helping audiences understand the root cause (and consequences) of our ongoing obsession with ‘stuff’.

When it comes to excess, there’s plenty to worry about. As such, Stewart describes the problems of an out-of-control consumer culture, relating the plight of hoarders, the growing problem of ‘space junk’ (the 23,000 pieces of debris orbiting our planet and threatening human exploration!), and how excessive waste is an environmental nightmare. But ‘junk’ isn’t all about gloom—it’s also a lucrative industry. Junk removal teams, professional organizers, container stores, and junk-based TV (think Pawn Stars) have all tapped-in to our culture’s strange love affair, and turned it into big business. Additionally, the messy problems of over-consumption have also bred some good old fashioned American innovation. Talking solutions, Stewart describes online communities that give, rather than hoard (or throw away); volunteer groups that repair broken-down items; and more and more people who are learning to live with less—for the good of everyone, and the planet. Ultimately, Stewart offers audiences a captivating journey through 250-mile-long yard sales, resale shops, and packrat dens, both human and rodent, that for most listeners will sound surprisingly familiar.

Dunbar’s Legacy The Story of America’s First Black Public High School

What can we learn from the extraordinary history of America’s first black public high school? Alison Stewart’s talk starts in 1870 Washington DC with the opening of the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth. At its peak in the 1900s–1950s, the school, which was later renamed Dunbar High, sent 80% of its students to college. Today, like in too many failing urban public schools, the majority of Dunbar students are barely proficient in reading and math. What happened? Stewart, whose parents are both Dunbar graduates, talks about the history of black DC, school desegregation, and education reform, all within the lens of the story of Dunbar High. She explores the importance of grit, perseverance, and conscientiousness in a student’s success. And, she shares important lessons from Dunbar’s history and its story of opportunity, tenacity, and access. Stewart’s optimistic keynotes inspire audiences to look to our history to drive change in America’s education system.

MCs & Entertainers
Alison Stewart Host & Moderator Extraordinaire
Lively, energetic, and engaged, Alison Stewart is one of the most professional, polished hosts and moderators out there. From politics to pop culture, she has guided countless conversations throughout her diverse career—everywhere from MTV to The Today Show to PBS. She has moderated panels that have included all types of newsmakers: from the venerable Ben Bradlee to Lt. Uhura from Star Trek. She knows how to ask questions and listen for content. She has a knack for transforming any forum or panel into a conversation. And, she’s a great conduit for the audience to the panelists. A truly great host or moderator has the power to take an event to the next level. Stewart has the experience, the know-how, and the moxie to do just that.