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  • Manali Dhole

An #importedAsians POV: Kristen Meinzer

The Universal Asian got to know Kristen Meinzer, an award-winning podcaster, culture critic, royal watcher, and author. Named 2020 Woman of the Year by The Women’s Center in Washington D.C., Kristen Meinzer has also served as a panelist, consultant, and speaker at conferences, in classrooms, and for private companies. To learn more about her and her work visit her site here.

Tell us about yourself, your childhood, and your experience of growing up.

I’m a Korean adoptee, raised in Minnesota by white parents. My older sister is also adopted from Korea. My mom’s mom, whom we all called Nanna, was always the family member I was closest to. She lived a few blocks from us, and I spent a lot of time crashing at her apartment, going to movies with her, or just hanging out together. She was a resilient, kind, and funny gal. And like me and my sister, she was also orphaned at a young age—but unlike us, she was raised in the foster system, not adopted.

What inspired and motivated you to start a podcast of your own?

I’ve hosted ten podcasts over the past 12 years. The first was WNYC’s "Movie Date" (2010-2016), and I was pretty much assigned the hosting job, alongside the station’s film critic Rafer Guzman. We reviewed new movie releases, interviewed movie stars, and had an occasional segment called “movie therapy,” in which listeners would write in with their quandaries, and we would prescribe them movies and TV shows to help them feel better. When I left WNYC, the show ended and I went on to host "By The Book, When Meghan Met Harry," and other hit shows for other networks. But in March 2020, old "Movie Date" listeners started reaching out to me and Rafer asking if we would bring back just the “movie therapy” portion of our old show, since they were stuck at home because of the pandemic, and feeling more anxious and frustrated than ever, which is how we launched "Movie Therapy with Rafer & Kristen" in April 2020. It’s the first podcast I’ve hosted that’s all ours, not a network’s, and we wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for our old, loyal listeners asking us to. Thank you, listeners!

You have several award-winning podcasts up until now, and in a lot of ways you’ve been telling people to follow their dreams and passion and to never give up. I’m sure you went through challenging times yourself. Can you tell us about the inner challenges you faced and what helped you to stay motivated in the hard times?

I’ve had loads of challenges in my podcasting career! For example, early on, some people wrote in and criticized my voice. They didn’t like my Minnesota accent. They hated that I laughed so much and was so animated. They thought I sounded unprofessional. And truth is, compared to other public radio podcast hosts, I did NOT sound like the norm. But, I didn’t know how to tone down my enthusiasm or change my accent. And when I talked to our digital producer about it, he insisted: “Please don’t change a thing. You sound exactly like yourself and that’s what makes you so fun to listen to.” I give the same advice to other podcasters all the time: Embrace what makes you uniquely you. There’s only one of you in the world, don’t deprive the world of your voice or your story. Your funny accent or quirky personality or unconventional upbringing might just make someone out there feel less alone and more seen.

You’ve done a podcast about self-help books and if they really are effective. However, if you had to, which one book that you read during or outside the podcast would you say was the most impactful for you and why. 

On "By The Book," my friend Jolenta Greenberg and I live by the rules of a different self-help book in each episode, following the rules down to the letter for two weeks straight. Along the way, we record ourselves at home and in the world so that listeners can hear how each book enhances or destroys our lives. [Note: Jolenta went into this project wanting to believe the promises of self-help books]. As a culture critic, I went in as a big old skeptic. And so, full disclosure: there aren’t a lot of self-help books I’m fond of. But, I will say that I have enjoyed a few over the years, notably: "Dream More" by Dolly Parton (her optimism and work ethic are contagious); "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie (his advice to treat people like they matter never goes out of style); and the "Year of  Yes" by Shonda Rhimes (the book was more memoir than advice, but it was so much fun to hear her story of trying to embrace life for a year, in her own words).

You’ve also spoken about various social issues like feminism and inequality. What is your belief system about equality and how do you think it can be achieved?

We can’t just change hearts and minds if we want to change the world (though it’s absolutely important to aim for that, as well!). We also have to change systems. That means passing laws to protect the marginalized. It means public education that gives as much weight to the literature and history of women and people of color as it does to white men. It means college admission policies that eliminate favoritism for the wealthy and well-connected. It means employment hiring practices that look beyond “culture fit.” It means taxing those at the very top the same percentage that the rest of us must pay.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into starting a podcast, or become a writer?

Ask yourself two questions: 1) Why do you want to start a podcast/write a book? 2) Who is it for? If you know your “why,” and your “for whom,” you’ll have something to drive you, and someone to share it with when it’s done.

During times like these, we all are facing a lot of issues emotionally and physically. What is your advice or message that you would like to share in order to be productive and healthy?

No one is more of an expert on you, than you. So, I can’t tell you what will work best for you. But I can say this: Life is easier for most of us if we don’t go it alone. Over the years I’ve leaned heavily on friends and family. I’ve gotten support and advice from mentors. I’ve turned to mental health professionals. I’ve read books and watched movies to feel less alone and gain clarity on life’s challenges. Please, don’t go it alone. And, be grateful for those who want to help.


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