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Tavis Smiley: The 'Fail Up' Interview with Kam Williams

Kam Williams: Hi Tavis, thanks for the interview.

Tavis Smiley: My pleasure, man.


KW: I loved FAIL UP. I have to start by asking, who is the celebrity you refer to as “Mr. X“ in the book?

TS: Mr. X is Mr. X! I can’t tell you who he is, but the whole point of that story is a lesson I learned about how mistakes you make early in life can follow you. I wasn’t even in the broadcast business at the time. So, be careful about gossiping because loose lips really do sink ships. Now that I’m in the business, and people talk about me, I know what it feels like to be the victim of gossip. Mr. X is a major Hollywood player, but he won’t even come on my show. I had to learn those two lessons the hard way. Read More

Tavis talks with Nnete and the morning crew from Houston's "Madd Hatta Morning Show" on 97.9 The Box.
Credit: TheBoxHouston

This piece originally appeared on NPR's "Tell Me More."
May 12, 2011
Smiley: "Even When You're Justified, You Have To Remain Dignified"

Public radio and television personality Tavis Smiley has written 14 books, many of them bestsellers. But in his new book, Smiley shares surprising details from his personal life, like not getting his college degree until 16 years after marching with his class. Host Michel Martin and Smiley discuss how his failures have helped make him the accomplished man he is today, which is detailed in his new book Fail Up: 20 Lessons On Building Success From Failure.

This article original appeared online at

How to Recover From a Career Flameout
By Rick Newman
Posted: May 10, 2011

With the good times missing in action, a lot of Americans are coping with financial stress, declining living standards, and deep fear about the future. So veteran broadcaster Tavis Smiley ought to have a ready audience for his new book, Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure. As a black radio and TV host, Smiley has managed to bridge many racial and political boundaries, starting as a commentator on a small urban radio station, expanding his audience with a show on Black Entertainment Television in the 1990s, and crossing into the mainstream with a stint on National Public Radio from 2002 to 2004. He currently hosts a TV show on PBS and two radio shows distributed by Public Radio International. Fail Up is his 15th book. I spoke with Smiley recently about his 20-year career, the setbacks he's faced, and the many threats to prosperity in America. Excerpts: Read More

Check out Tavis Smiley on Good Day

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This piece originally appeard on the NPR website.

May 4, 2011
Tavis Smiley: If At First You Don't Succeed, 'Fail Up'

If you want to learn about success, talk to a successful person. If you want to learn about failure, talk to a very successful person. In his new book Fail Up, TV and radio host Tavis Smiley offers lessons on how to turn life's setbacks into success.

2011 marks Smiley's 20th year in broadcast — and that anniversary got him thinking: "The way I arrived at this place [of success] was failing my way — all the way," he says. The book is sort of a Top 20 Worst-Of list: It details the 20 biggest mistakes of Smiley's life.

Some of these mistakes were news even to Smiley's close family. Before the Fail Up manuscript arrived at his parents' house, Smiley called home to tell his mother and father they were about to read things they'd never heard before. Smiley was the first person in his family to go to college — but when he marched across the stage at Indiana University to get his diploma, he hadn't really graduated. It technically took Smiley 16 years to get his degree; during college, he had been arrested and sent to jail for check fraud. "I couldn't bring myself to tell my parents that I'd gone to jail while I was in college," he says. "[Or] that I didn't have a college degree." Read More

Check out highlights from Tavis's FAIL UP Tour visit to New York City!

This Takeaway originally appeared on

We witnessed a low point in American political discourse this week when President Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate. While some might hail this as a show of transparency by the White House, we know the truth: President Obama was beaten down by conspiracy theory bullies who will never be satisfied by any sort of documentation, no matter how official.

Even now, the predictable backlash has already begun. This is the nature of conspiracy theories and their most dedicated followers.

We will just have to accept that a certain segment of the population will forever believe -- incorrectly -- that the first African-American president is not, in fact, one of us and does not have the right to hold his high office. Sadly, if there were to surface a videotape of Obama's live birth at the feet of the Statue of Liberty, some folk would still not believe. Read More

Listen to Tavis discuss FAIL UP on KPCC's "AirTalk with Larry Mantle" on Southern California Public Radio

Check out Tavis's kickoff event for the FAIL UP Tour at the Grove Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, CA.

Starr report


Tavis Smiley has nothing if not impeccable timing.

The PBS talk show host and media dynamo, who's celebrating his 20th anniversary in broadcasting, is here in Manhattan this week for two book signings -- featuring Phil Donahue and Brian Lehrer -- and to tape his show, "Tavis Smiley," at WNET (Ch. 13), his new broadcast partner. His guest tonight? Katie Couric, who's supposedly about to announce (finally!) that she's leaving her perch at the "CBS Evening News" (Mayor Bloomberg guested on last night's show).

"I wrote one of the essays for Katie's book . . . none of this was meant to happen this way," says Smiley, who'll be promoting his own book, "Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure," tonight (8 p.m.) at the 92nd Street Y and tomorrow (6 p.m.) at Cooper Union with two one-hour conversations. They'll be hosted by Donahue (tonight) and Lehrer (tomorrow), followed by a Q&A.

"Phil Donahue was my first talk show hero. He was, and still is, at the top of my list of personalities. He's on the all-star team," says Smiley. "And Brian Lehrer is my favorite public radio personality. He's the best interviewer on all of public radio, for my money." Read More

Watch Tavis's appearance on the NBC Today show!

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Tavis's Takeaway blog will run throughout the FAIL UP Tour.

There Is No Way to Fail Up Without Faith
For many of us, Easter Sunday marks the true start of spring. It's a time of rejuvenation after the winter, when we focus on the season's promise of renewal.

I celebrate Easter as a Christian, embracing the tremendous message of sacrifice and resurrection. The Easter story is just one example of how important faith is when all hope is lost, and we feel like an unmovable stone is blocking our way. Regardless of your beliefs or religious practices, the truth is, there is no way to fail up without faith.

For many folk, personal spiritual faith in times of struggle has been the only light shining through the darkness. There were many points throughout my life when I thought things weren't going to work out. It was my faith in God—that He had a plan bigger and better than my own—that got me through. Read More

Watch Tavis's appearance on Los Angeles local station KTLA's "Water Cooler Buzz" on April 20th.  



Tavis Smiley 20 Years in Broadcasting

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