Vann is an exceptional voice in journalism and a captivating storyteller, who effortlessly weaves together narratives of race, politics, and culture. His insightful perspective and compelling writing will challenge your perceptions, leaving you both enlightened and inspired.

Vann R. Newkirk II is a senior editor at The Atlantic, and the host and co-creator of narrative podcasts Floodlines and Holy Week. For years, Newkirk has covered voting rights, democracy, and environmental justice, with a focus on how race and class shape the country's and the world's fundamental structures, across media. Newkirk is a 2022 Andrew Carnegie fellow, and was a 2020 James Beard Award Finalist, a 2020 11th Hour Fellow at New America, and a 2018 recipient of the American Society of Magazine Editors's ASME Next Award. In 2021, Newkirk received the Peabody Award for Floodlines. His journalism inspired the 2022 documentary film Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power.

Speech topics

The Question of Democracy

America likes to declare itself the leader of global democracy. But in truth, citizens of all races have only been able to vote for 58 years, and many people are still disenfranchised by way of previous felony convictions. With the 2024 election looming, more and more strategies have been devised to keep people of color off the voting rolls. Where is the country headed, and is this really a democracy?

Storytelling Against the Crisis

As the country faces the twinned issues of a climate crisis and racial inequality, with each posing a threat to our history, what tools can actually stand in the way of an apocalypse? Journalism, oral history, documentary, and photography by and in vulnerable communities will be critical in changing the story about who we are, and in slowing the onslaught of climate change that affects marginalized people most.

Lessons from Catastrophe

The way we understand disasters—and the way journalism handles them—is broken. Can we create a new model that helps us look ahead to future problems?


Some call it Hurricane Katrina. Some call it the Federal Flood. Others call it the day the levees broke. On August 29, 2005, the city of New Orleans was submerged. That story of hubris, incompetence, and nature's wrath is now etched into the national consciousness. But the people who lived through the flood and its aftermath have a different story to tell. A story of rumors, betrayal, and one of the most misunderstood events in American history. Hosted by Vann R. Newkirk II.

The story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, is often recounted as a conclusion to a powerful era of civil rights in America, but how did this hero’s murder come to be the stitching used to tie together a narrative of victory? The week that followed his killing was one of the most fiery, disruptive, and revolutionary, and is nearly forgotten. Over the course of eight episodes, Holy Week hosted by Vann R. Newkirk II brings forward the stories of the activists who turned heartbreak into action, families scorched by chaos, and politicians who worked to contain the grief. Seven days diverted the course of a social revolution and set the stage for modern clashes over voting rights, redlining, critical race theory, and the role of racial unrest in today’s post–George Floyd reckoning.

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