Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with "Far from the Tree" Author Andrew Solomon; Interview with "Clyde's" Playwright Lynn Nottage; Interview with "Clyde's" Actor, Kara Young. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 13:00:00   ET




Here's what's coming up.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: All of us have a societal responsibility. And we are living through historically the

worst outbreak of an infectious disease in over 100 years.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Dr. Anthony Fauci gives Walter Isaacson the latest on COVID, what the U.S. government is doing about it and how you can

protect yourself this holiday season.

Then: America's culture war turns on books. "Far From the Tree" author Andrew Solomon tells me what it's like when your book is censored.

And the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai reappears to retract her accusations, but concerns continue. We have a special report.

Also ahead:

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You're taking too much time making the sandwiches. This ain't "Top Chef."

GOLODRYGA: A tale of redemption and sandwich-making. Hit playwright Lynn Nottage joins us around her latest comedy, "Clyde's," along with one of her

stars, Kara Young.


GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

The Omicron variant is now the dominant strain of COVID in the United States. Less than a month since the first case was reported, the CDC is now

saying that it made up more than 70 percent of all new infections last week. That staggering speed is provoking some incredible statements from

public health leaders.

Just take a listen to what the head of the World Health Organization had to say about holiday gatherings.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO DIRECTOR GENERAL: An event canceled is better than a life canceled. It's better to cancel now and celebrate later

than to celebrate now and grieve later.


GOLODRYGA: And it's not just words. We're seeing some pretty dramatic action too, the European Union announcing that E.U. vaccine passports will

expire for people who don't get a booster.

Well, as this all gathers pace, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, has been speaking about the latest details with Walter




And, Dr. Anthony Fauci, welcome back to the show.

FAUCI: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

ISAACSON: Can you give me the latest on Omicron? We know that it spreads much more fastly. It's driving up cases. But, as of this week, what data do

we have to show whether or not it might be less dangerous, it might be less likely to cause death?

FAUCI: Well, there are suggestions of that from the South African data, where they show with the rather profound vertical spike in Omicron in their

cases, that, if you look at the ratio of hospitalizations to cases, it's lower than with Delta, the duration of the hospital stay is a day or two

less, and there appears to be a less need for oxygen.

The only issue with that, it's unclear whether that is due to the underlying level of immunity in South Africa, because so many people have

already been infected with other variants like Delta. So you may be getting a protective effect against severe disease, as opposed to it inherently

being a less virulent virus.

What that means is that, in countries like our own, where you have a substantial proportion, 50 million people, who are unvaccinated, who may

not have been previously infected with Delta or other variants, they may get hit just as hard from a severity standpoint as Delta.

So we have to reserve judgment that this is such a good thing that it might be less severe. When you have so many cases, Walter, it essentially

obviates any diminution in severity because of the quantitative number of cases that you will get with such a highly transmissible virus like


ISAACSON: How many people being hospitalized now with Omicron in the past couple of weeks in the United States have been vaccinated?

FAUCI: Well, there's -- I can't give exact numbers, but whenever you look at the hospitalization proportion, it always weighs very heavily towards

the unvaccinated, even though, as you might expect, as you get breakthrough infections which will occur among vaccinated people, that some of them --

and they are usually the elderly and those who have underlying conditions.


It would be very unusual for an otherwise healthy person who was vaccinated and, particularly, boosted who had a breakthrough infection to get a severe

outcome. That would be extremely unusual.

ISAACSON: You said something interesting just a moment ago, which is that, in South Africa, one reason it may be less dangerous when people get it is

because they're protected because they have already had the disease.

I see that in my home state of Louisiana. We had a huge spike for the fourth wave. Hospitalizations, even though Omicron is in Louisiana, are

going down. They're drifting down in Louisiana.

Do you think that there is some validity to maybe there's a herd immunity that comes from people who were healthy having been exposed to this


FAUCI: Oh, no doubt that is a strong possibility that an individual or a cohort in a community, be that Louisiana, New Orleans or what have you, if

you have enough people who are either vaccinated or who have experienced COVID-19 illness, that, when they get exposed to and infected with another

variant, be it Omicron or whatever other variant, that the chances of their getting a severe disease are much less.

Underlying prior immunity always mitigates against severe disease.

ISAACSON: Does that mean, though, that maybe we should not worry about very healthy people with no underlying conditions who can avoid exposing

elderly or other people, we should not worry about them getting exposed to the disease, it might actually be helpful?

FAUCI: No, that's a dangerous assumption, Walter, because even though, quantitatively and relatively speaking, they have less of a likelihood of

getting severe disease, we have plenty of young people in the hospital who apparently had no underlying condition who have gotten seriously ill.

Also, there's the issue of long COVID, where you get infected, you recover and you have the lingering, sometimes weeks to months, of sometimes

incapacitating, unexplainable symptomatology, like severe fatigue upon exertion, sleep disorders, inability to focus or concentrate.

The other thing that we need to be careful of is that, even though many young people will get infected and not have a severe outcome, they likely

will infect someone else who might actually be vulnerable to severity of disease. So you can't just discount young healthy people and not be

concerned about their getting infected, which is the reason why, in addition to vaccination and booster, we still feel that there are other

non-pharmacological mitigation methods, such as frequent testing, mask- wearing in indoor congregate settings, all of those things are important.

ISAACSON: And you say the other level of protection we can do is get frequent testing. It's something you have been advocating for, for a while.

You have been saying flood the zone with easy-to-use tests.

Well, I just came up here to New York, and we can't find any tests anywhere. People are waiting in long lines. Why haven't we just flooded the

zone with testing, and -- instead of having all this reimbursement from insurance, and all that sort of stuff?

FAUCI: You know, Walter, I wish that I had a good and acceptable answer to you.

If you look at the difference between available tests a year ago and now, it's just orders of magnitude better now, but, still, you're absolutely

correct. In some places, you go and you want to get an easy test that you can do point of care, and they're not available.

This is despite the fact that the government has invested billions of dollars to make anywhere from 200 million to 500 million tests per month

available. So, the bottom line is, we have to do better than what we are doing, because, as improved as it is, it still does not allow very easy and

free access to as many tests as you need, particularly now, as we're in the middle of the holiday season, where people who are going to be gathering

socially with friends and others would like to know if they're positive or if a person who is coming into their home is positive.

ISAACSON: So what are we doing to fix that?

FAUCI: Well, we're putting a lot more effort and money.

There's been a new -- for example, there have been 10,000 centers that are now going to have free testing available throughout the country. Hopefully,

that's going to alleviate the issue that we're talking about.

But I believe that the billions of dollars that have been invested to get that half-a-billion tests per month available are going to go a long way to

make this better.


ISAACSON: I just saw that Boeing, General Electric, I think even Amtrak have gotten rid of the vaccine mandate for their employees. Boeing is a

huge contractor of the U.S. government.

I can't quite figure out, why is it we're not able to say, at least we're big contractors of the U.S. government, you have to get vaccinated? What's

gone wrong here? Why can't we get a national standard?

FAUCI: Well, there has been some success with vaccine requirements.

United Airline instituted, Walter. They got like 99 percent of their employees vaccinated. Tyson's Food did it. I don't understand why some

companies do not do that. It is just this issue of the political situation in our country of pushing back on anything that looks like government's

encroachment on your right to decide what you want to do with yourself.

But what I think that does not take into consideration is that, in addition to our individual rights to make a decision between -- about what we do or

don't do, all of us have a societal responsibility. And we are living through historically the worst outbreak of an infectious disease in over

100 years.

And that's the reason why I think people need to put aside this issue of, you can't tell me what I need to do, and say perhaps, for the good of

society in general, not to mention your own safety and health and that of your family, it just makes such good sense to get vaccinated.

ISAACSON: Well, let's talk about this week. It's Christmas.

Those of us who have been vaccinated and booster shotted and our families have been vaccinated and booster shotted, are we OK just to celebrate

Christmas together without masks on and to just be careful?

FAUCI: Absolutely.

And that's the thing we want to make sure people don't get confused. When we talk about the threat of Omicron, the ongoing surge, when you have

vaccination, plus booster, plus being prudent about not congregating in indoor settings where you don't know the vaccination status of people, and

even, Walter, adding the extra step of these handy point-of-care testing, I mean now a number of people before they have people come into the home for

a dinner or a reception are asking them to get tested within 24 hours, even if they have been vaccinated.

That's going the extra mile. If you do all of that, you should be able to enjoy, in a peaceful, non-anxious way the typical kind of family gatherings

that we all cherish so much, particularly over the holidays.

ISAACSON: Should schools reopen after Christmas?

FAUCI: I believe so.

We can keep the schools safe. We now are vaccinating children 5 to 11 years old. We have got to get parents to vaccinate more of these children. And I

believe, if we surround the children with vaccinated people, they can be safely brought to school.

And there's this test-to-stay program, which, instead of having a situation, when you get a child infected, that you have to quarantine all

of the contacts, that no longer is really working. What we feel we can be successfully doing is testing the children and, if they are negative, keep

them in school.

You don't have to be quarantining groups of children.

ISAACSON: What mutations in this new variant make it so that it spreads more easily? And can you scientifically -- you're a great infectious

disease specialist scientifically. Can you look at those mutations and say, here's why it may not be as dangerous? Maybe it doesn't affect the lungs or


FAUCI: Yes, good question, Walter.

You can predict that it would be more transmissible because of the mutations around the receptor binding domain. You can predict that it would

evade immunity by where those amino acid substitutes are. But it is much more difficult to predict virulence on the basis of mutations.

What you can do is, you can look at a virus that might be more virulent and then backtrack and look at the mutations and say, it appears that greater

virulence are associated with these particularly mutations.

But when you look, for example, at Omicron now, it has 50 mutations, 30 of them in the spike protein, 12 or more in the receptor binding domain. None

of them specifically say that it could or could not be more virulent.

ISAACSON: So what does that tell us about the possible future variations, that they will mainly come at the spike protein level, which affects how

much it can be infectious? Is that what we have to look out for?


FAUCI: Yes, but there may be mutations in other areas of the virus that might have some impact that we have not yet experienced.

But most of the ones that have given the Alpha, the Beta, the Delta, and now the Omicron are concentrated in that very important protein, which is

responsible for the binding of the virus to the cell, and which is the target of monoclonal antibodies, as well as neutralizing antibodies that

are induced by vaccines.

That's a very critical part of the virus.

ISAACSON: But some of these monoclonal antibodies don't seem to work as well against Omicron. Is that correct?

FAUCI: Oh, that is absolutely correct. And that's been really quite concerning.

We had a whole bunch, a whole host of monoclonal antibodies from multiple companies. And several of those now have been essentially rendered useless,

if not close to useless. There have been one or two that seem to have survived those mutations and still have a degree of potency of

neutralization, but several of them have fallen by the wayside.

ISAACSON: Yet all that you have said so far makes it seem that it's harder to get to herd immunity. We can't just let the healthy communities get

infected. We don't have some of the things that can stop each new variant.

So, if we're never going to get to herd immunity, how do we get to and when do we get to the fact that this may just become like the flu, in other

words, we can just live with it, we can get the flu, and, hopefully, it won't be as deadly?

FAUCI: So, if we do not have variants that are really substantially different than the prior variant -- Omicron is an example of one that's

substantially different.

If you have only minor modifications, by the time you get almost all the people in the country either vaccinated and/or having gotten infected, you

very likely will have a degree of baseline protection, maybe not against infection, but for the most part against severe disease.

At that point, it becomes more like the common cold, which means, for the overwhelming majority of people, it will either be asymptomatic or very

minimally symptomatic, similar to the common cold coronavirus.

ISAACSON: So, can we start treating it that way in the next few months, or are you talking about...

FAUCI: Well, I hope -- I hope it's within the next several months, I hope as we get into 2022.

First of all, we're in the middle of a Delta surge, and we're looking over our shoulder at an Omicron surge. So I want us to just get through the

winter relatively unscathed, which I don't think it's going to be unscathed, we don't overwhelm the hospitals, and we get more people

vaccinated and boosted.

And as we get into the spring, if in fact we do get such a large proportion of people who've either been vaccinated boosted or -- and/or gotten

infected, that we're going to have virus, it's not going to be -- well, certainly, we're not going to eradicate it the way we eradicated smallpox.

Certainly, I don't think we're going to eliminate it the way we have eliminated polio and measles by vaccination campaigns. But I hope the level

of control will be so low that, in fact, it will be like a common cold, with few exceptions of people getting seriously ill.

ISAACSON: As a scientist, you have been looking at these messenger RNA vaccines. They seem easy to program.

When will we be able to program them so that they will knock out any coronavirus and not have to be updated every time there's a mutation in a

spike protein?

FAUCI: Great question, Walter.

And that is what we are putting a considerable amount of effort on. We refer to it as a pan-coronavirus vaccine. And, in fact, a week-and-a-half

ago, I wrote a paper in "The New England Journal of Medicine" describing the urgent need for that. In fact, that was the title of the paper we

wrote, a pan-coronavirus vaccine, an urgent need, because it would be foolish for us to think that we are not in the future going to be

challenged with yet again another pandemic-potential coronavirus.

We have had three in the last 19 years. We have had SARS-CoV-1, we have had MERS, and now we have had multiple iterations of COVID-19. So it really

behooves us to go full blast about trying to get a pan-coronavirus vaccine.

ISAACSON: Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you so much for joining us.

FAUCI: Thank you very much, Walter. It's a great pleasure to have been with you. Thank you for having me.


GOLODRYGA: A really insightful conversation there.


Well, now, the coronavirus crisis has forced parents to see their children's education up close as they study from home, so perhaps it's no

surprise that education is a new front and America's culture wars. The result? Book banning.

The American Library Association saying that, since June, there have been 155 attempts to remove books concerning LGBTQ issues and people of color.

Our next guest is a victim of that censorship. Andrew Solomon is a world renowned author of books like "Far From the Tree" and "Noonday Demon." His

work has previously been censored in China, but now it's being targeted within the United States. It's a disturbing experience he recounted in "The

New York Times," and he joins me now to talk about it.

Andrew, welcome to the program.

So, let's talk about this investigation that was launched by a Texas lawmaker, Texas state lawmaker Matt Krause. And he launched an

investigation into school districts within the state there, citing complaints that he's getting from parents and students and taxpayers,


It's a list of about 850 books. And he's questioning how many school districts have them, how many copies there are, and how much the schools

spent on them.

Your book happens to be one of those on the list, not far from -- or "Far From the Tree." Talk to us about your reaction to hearing this news and why

you think this book was on this list?


I think he was targeting books that deal with LGBT issues of any kind, as well as books on race and books that mention the subject of abortion, which

is, of course, a very hot-button topic at the moment.

I believe my book was on because it has a chapter about how families have responded to having transgender children. The book is about how families

respond to various kinds of different children. But the opening and the closing are about my own family. My husband and I have a broad and

expansive family.

And he is the biological father of two children with some lesbian friends in Minnesota. I have a daughter with my best friend from college. She lives

with her mother and her mother's male partner, and my husband and I have a son who's with us full time.

And I think that whole narrative is part of what Matt Krause and other people elsewhere in the country are trying to get away from the people who

are members of the school district, on grounds that somehow it's going to be dangerous and poisonous, that somehow the story of families like mine,

which I think of as a joyful and loving story, it's somehow going to poison children.

It's incredibly upsetting to be banned and -- or to be blacklisted, which is probably more accurate for this particular episode, though many books

are actually being banned. And I had sort of thought that it would be kind of comical.

But if you have grown up in a society which is somewhat prejudiced, and you have you have experienced that prejudice, as a gay person, as I have, it's

oddly evocative of playground drama to find oneself blacklisted in this fashion. And it's actually very deeply upsetting.

GOLODRYGA: You said that it's evoked memories that you have had from your childhood, having to come to terms with your own sexuality and acceptance

in a time that was different, and perhaps now strikingly seeing some similarities.

SOLOMON: Yes, absolutely.

I was a child and, like many gay children, I was bullied. And I was bullied sometimes by people who accused me of being gay, which was considered a

horrific insult. And it took a long time for me to get to the point at which I was really comfortable being openly and publicly and obviously an

inhabitant of my own sexuality, to write about it, to express it, to put it out there.

My children are now of an age at which they are beginning to think about sexuality. And whatever the decisions are or revelations are that they come

to, I want to protect them from the kind of harrowing experience that I had, of wishing I were a different kind of person, of wishing I weren't who

I was.

And I wrote "Far From the Tree" in part to say, look, out of all of that anguish, out of all of the pain that I experienced when I was a child grew

this joyful and beautiful family that has given me more pleasure than anything else could.

Some people don't want family. It's not that I press it on everyone. But, for me, it was revelatory. And so I think of "Far From the Tree" as being a

series of love stories.

And to have it disparaged and to have it blacklisted in that way gives one the feeling of one's greatest joy, knowing that there are people out there

who want to crush it, and knowing that, for many, many, many Americans, not to mention people around the world, the path that I found to happiness

remains unavailable, because everything about them remains ostensibly dangerous.


GOLODRYGA: We showed photos of your beautiful and, lack for a better word -- for the lack of a better word, a modern family, right, with your

daughter in Texas, your son George there with you in New York. They're just a couple of years apart. Your daughter, ironically enough, lives in the

school district that this lawmaker resides in as well, Matt Krause.

I'm curious as to her reaction to all of this. Have you discussed this with her and what your son in the North, New York, how he feels about this?

SOLOMON: Well, my daughter is pretty valiant. She's living in an area that tends to be conservative, and she tends to be liberal.

And I have admired her and still admire her for having the gumption at age 14 to assert so clearly what she thinks and what she believes. And when I

told her about this, she sort of shrugged and said, this kind of thing happens in Texas, that you have to expect this, which I know to be true.

I love Texas. I spent a lot of time there. I have many close friends there. I have a whole world that's organized around my daughter. I'm deeply

attached to her mother, who lives there. But, nonetheless, I recognize that it's a part of the country where these things happen.

My son just said, it's awful. He was with me when it came out. He gave me sort of the big hug. And he said, but, daddy, the people who need to read

your book will find it. And I had to say, George, some of the people who need it will find it. And it's not that my book is the ultimate redemption.

I didn't write the Bible. But I said, but if my book and all of the books that are like my book are actually banned, and he said, I'm glad I won't

have that problem.

GOLODRYGA: Listen, I hear you. I grew up in Texas. There's a lot to love about that state. It is not a monolith. There are various opinions and

political views. There are progressives, there are conservatives in that state. So it's a bit dangerous to paint it all with one brush.

That having been said, what lawmakers say there is quite different from what lawmakers say and focus on in other states.

I want to read from the letter that Matt Krause wrote. He directs superintendence to identify material that -- quote -- "might make students

feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, and/or other forms of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student by virtue of

their race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."

Do you think that this lawmaker is acting on his own convictions, or is this based on larger political theater? And does it matter, the distinction

between the two?

SOLOMON: Well, it's an active political theater.

I mean, I'm sure that Matt Krause hasn't read those 850 books. I doubt that even the staff working for him who helped compiled the list has read the

books. I think they go on reputation. And I think it's -- I think it's very distressing to feel that, in an act of political theater -- it reminds me

of the way that now, at American airports, you have to take your shoes off and put them through the sensor.

I don't believe that we're avoiding hijackings by making people take their shoes off. I believe it's a piece of theater to enact the idea of greater

security than we, in fact, have.

So far as making people feel guilty or sad about their gender or about their race or about anything else, I don't think the books on his list

actually do that. I think that the books that are on his list are books that actually are trying to expand people's understanding and that will

allow people whose race or whose gender or who are in any other way different from other people are actually affirmed in who they are.

At the moment, there is an attempt to close things down from both the left and the right. When NPR did a show on banned books recently, they

interviewed someone who talked about how important it was to get rid of books that came from the right.

And I thought that's no better than someone who wants to get rid of books that come from the left, insofar as left and right is even a valid

political construct at this point.

But the idea that people can't withstand the pain of books that present a point of view different from theirs, that's undermining what an education

essentially is. And education is the process of learning to entertain ideas other than your own and to judge them dispassionately and clearly and to

remain strong in your own internal identity, despite whatever you have been exposed to.

GOLODRYGA: Look, this is an issue that school districts in Southern, more conservative states are facing.

And it's something that more progressive college campuses are facing too, when you talk about the two different spectrums, progressives and

conservatives wanting to just focus in and remain in like-minded areas, right, and not -- and not be open to other opinions


You describe yourself as being blacklisted, not banned. And it's a fine line between defining the two. You were banned in China -- you were

censored in China, I should say. But even the idea of being blacklisted, the threat that this lawmaker is trying to convey speaks volumes and can do

a lot of damage without actually banning the book alone, no?

SOLOMON: Absolutely. There's no question that the blacklisting of books has a strong effect. And as I argued in the "Times" in the same time the

conquest at Eastern Europe was primarily reliant on people feeling embarrassed by their attempts to oppose communism rather than by the acts

obtained, both were involved. But you get people to a point where they feel on edge.

And I myself have been aware of moments since being blacklisted when I thought, oh, maybe I shouldn't put that on Twitter or maybe that shouldn't

go on Facebook because it's going to only fan the flames. And then, I've tend to think, well, the flames are there and it doesn't matter if they're

fanned, but the silencing effect is enormous. The sense that you shouldn't be doing this. That you are being told by a government authority that what

you're doing is shameful and wrong and unpatriotic. There's always a chilling effect from that kind of thing.

You know, I hope writers and other artists will stand up to it and will, in fact, even be galvanized by it. But readers? I mean, are there readers who

are going to look at that list and say, my team just brought that book home, let's not read that one? There sure are. And I have to think when I'm

writing about whether my books will cause further lists like that to come out, you know, it's always in the back of my mind.

GOLODRYGA: What role do you think, given how this played such a big issue in recent elections, and I'm speaking specifically of Virginia, what role

should parents have in their children's education? There are political spectrums across the board in this country. What input, if any, do you

think parents should have and weigh in on?

SOLOMON: Well, my son is at a relatively liberal school in New York City, and the kids in his class were assigned a book to read and several parents

thought the book was too advanced for their kids, which I think represented a sort of naivety about how much the kids know about the world, and they

asked the school to cancel the book and the school cancelled the book, it was suddenly snatched out of the reading list. This was last year when they

son was in sixth grade, and I thought this was really unacceptable.

I thought we trust the schools to make these judgments. We trust the schools to teach our children. The dismantling of the American education

system in public education is, I think, the great tragedy of the United States and responsible from much of the rest of what's gone on. I think

parents should have every right to choose where they send their children to school, but I think the idea of parents going in and saying, they can read

this book but can't read that book. You know, parents aren't teachers and teachers are trained to know and understand and they should have the

freedom to assign the books that they believe will help the children grow up into wiser and better people.

GOLODRYGA: You know, as we know, this is not -- unfortunately, the U.S. has a history of book bans and blacklists. And I'm just curious, from a

historic perspective, I listened to an interview that you conducted with Christiane in 2015 where there was more of a sense of optimism. You said

gay is the new straight. Trans is the new gay. Where are we right now in the historical arc of this country and its social acceptance?

SOLOMON: We are in the period of backlash, I think, and we're in a period of backlash in which people have been emboldened both by the Trump

presidency and by the Supreme Court that it's left behind. So, people who would, at one point, have been sort of likely to think that their rights

were protected now feel that their rights are under threat. And people who would once have felt that the assertion of their opinions was unacceptable

or their attempts to ban or censor or change what children learn were acceptable now feel able to do that.

I think we're in a period of crisis. The "New York Times" yesterday said, America stands at the brink of civil war, in an opinion piece. I don't know

that I'd go so far as that. But I feel as though the oppositionality has become enormous. And as I've said, from both the left and the right. I feel

that the idea of freedom of speech as a centrist value, which is what it has always been since the founding of the country, that idea is being

annihilated by objections raised on all sides.

GOLODRYGA: Such an important point to make. Andrew Solomon, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your perspective.

SOLOMON: My pleasure.


GOLODRYGA: Well, another bewildering example of China's propaganda apparatus is the case of Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, who, in November,

accused a former top communist official of sexual assault only to be censored and disappeared from the public eye for weeks. Well, now, the

three-time Olympian denied ever making the accusation. But concerns about her freedom remain.

Correspondent Will Ripley has the latest details.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the sidelines of a skiing competition in Shanghai, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai breaks her silence.

Speaking to international media for the first time since her explosive allegations

Are you taking a video, Peng asks? Yes, says the reporter, from a Singapore newspaper known for pro-Beijing coverage. The only overseas Chinese

language newspaper allowed in the mainland.

Are you free to go as you please, the reporter asks, is anyone monitoring you? Peng replies, why would anyone monitor me? I've always been free.

Peng's freedom been in question for weeks since disappeared in early November. She accused a retired communist party leader of sexual assault.

An accusation Peng apparently now denies.

PENG SHUAI, CHINESE TENNIS STAR (through translator): I want to emphasize one thing that is very important, that I have never spoken or written about

anyone sexually assaulting me. This is a point to be emphasized clearly. In terms of the (INAUDIBLE) post, first of all, it's my personal privacy.

There possibly has been a lot of misunderstanding.

RIPLEY (voiceover): That November 2nd post erased within minutes from Chinese social media. The story censored on China's internet, ignored by

state media inside the country. Outside, state media reporters tweeting ferociously for weeks trying to discredit concerns over Peng's wellbeing.

Now, saying, the outside world should respect her denial.

In a statement to CNN, the Women's Tennis Association says, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA's significant concerns

about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion. The WTA made similar comments last month when Chinese state media

released these videos of Peng, videos WTA CEO Steve Simon told out front, we're just as unconvincing as e-mails from the tennis star supposedly

walking back her claims.

The WTA suspending all tournaments in China indefinitely. Putting a lucrative 10-year deal on the line.

The WTA knows Peng, Peng Shuai knows the WTA. Why in the world with all of these interviews is she not talking to the one group of people that

desperately want to hear from her?

RIPLEY: In her international interview, Peng says she's very grateful to the International Olympic Committee, very happy to have video calls from

them. The IOC accused of sports washing, releasing just one image of two calls with the three-time Olympian. Issuing statements claiming she's fine.

The IOC telling CNN, we will continue our quiet diplomacy. CNN's repeated request for comment from Peng and the Chinese government unanswered.

IOC president, Thomas Bach, planning to meet with Peng next month before the opening ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Retired vice premier,

Zhang Goali, the man Peng accused of sexual assault, the former Chinese face of the games, now just weeks away.


GOLODRYGA: And we will continue to follow the story. Our thanks for Will Ripley reporting that.

Well, from unsettling censorship to artists brimming with expression, next, as we get a glimpse of the new hit play from two-time Pulitzer Prize

winner, Lynn Nottage, called "Clyde's." If follows the lives of ex-convicts who ran a kitchen at a truck stop eatery, a group of people trying to find

redemption on their quest to create the perfect sandwich.

"Clyde's" is getting rave reviews but faces uncertain future as Broadway is hit yet again with another wave of covid.

Earlier today, I spoke about all of this with Lynn Nottage and one of the stars of the play, Kara Young.


GOLODRYGA: Lynn and Kara, welcome to the program.

It's such a fantastic play. And, Lynn, I have to begin by asking you, it is a play about a truck stop diner where the characters are all former ex-cons

and they are participating in making the ideal sandwich. How did this story plot come about?

LYNN NOTTAGE, PLAYWRIGHT, "CLYDE'S": It's really interesting, the story really came about when I was doing interviews with folks in Redding,

Pennsylvania, when I was developing my place. And Redding, Pennsylvania is at the tail end of the rust belt. It used to be a city that was an

industrial powerhouse. And then, when the economic downturn came, you know, they found themselves in dire straits.


And one of the things the prison system used to do is drop people off in Redding because it was very easy for folks to get jobs. They could stand in

the corner. And with one hour, regardless of what your circumstances were, you could find a job in a factory or you can find a job working in

agriculture. And the prison system continued to drop people off even after the downturn, the economic downturn.

And when I was doing interviews, I was really struck by the number of people formerly incarcerated and found themselves in this liminal space,

sort of trapped in limbo. And a lot of folks told me that they were really deeply invested in finding work but couldn't find jobs because whenever

they went for employment, they checked that box that said they were formerly incarcerated. And immediately, the door would be slammed. And they

had that same sort of situation when they were looking for housing.

And I went off and I wrote "Sweat" but I really wanted to continue to figure out how I could tell the story of so many folks that I encountered

in Redding, Pennsylvania, and that's how Clyde really came about, is looking at, you know, the formerly incarcerated and finding ways to tell a

story that is hopeful and optimistic.

I was really thinking about the concept of Wabi Sabi and mindfulness, you know, the Japanese concept in which you find beauty in simple things,

things that are deemed imperfect. And in finding that beauty, you are able to contemplate things that are perceived as broken in a completely new way.

And I think that's ultimately what I wanted to do with "Clyde's."

GOLODRYGA: And "Clyde's," obviously, the name's sake being Clyde, the owner of the diner herself formerly incarcerated and masterfully played by

Uzo Aduba.

Kara, let me talk about your character, Letitia, in the play because this play really does touch on every dark difficult subject matter that this

country is facing, whether it's crime, racism, recidivism, right, in prison, abuse, drug abuse, emotional abuse, and yet, it's all surrounded by

encapsulated with humor. Was it difficult for you to bring that to your character and how did you do so?

KARA YOUNG, ACTOR, "CLYDE'S": I tried to dig into the deepest colors of Letitia and she is having a very challenging time at the moment. You know,

she's seven months out of the prison system. She is taking care of a sick child. She's trying to make it to work every day and still, she does. You

know, she gets up every single day and she makes it to work.

And it is her place of refuge, in a way, and is place of calm and chaos, but she is searching for her truth and her voice and her power and tapping

into a source of her creativity and a need and a want to be optimistic about life.

GOLODRYGA: And humor, I guess, throughout life, right, does keep us going, you know, even the darkest of days still have some sort of humor around

them to get us through and you captured that masterfully in this play, Lynn.

What stood out to me, there are many things, but I would say, you know, you bring this common theme of diversity to your cast, right, and you have five

vast members. But I would say that there's a sixth one and that is the sandwich. And it keeps coming back to the sandwich and making the perfect

sandwich and the sort of Zen master of the play, Montrellous, his character. He describes a sandwich as the most democratic of foods. What

does that mean?

NGUYEN: Well, I think that in the end of the play, what you're left with is that everyone has a contribution to make. And the sandwich, as Kara

said, is a metaphor for creativity, it's also a metaphor for invention and collaboration. And the sandwich is something in which you can combine

relatively simple ingredients and different flavor profiles and have this really exciting kind of marvelous outcome.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And, Kara, I want to play a clip for you, and in exchange with your co-star, Rafael, played by Reza Salazar, in which he criticizes

you. I mean, you all sort of criticize each other in the art of sandwich making because you would like to believe yourself to be experts. But let's

play this clip and we'll discuss it after.



YOUNG: What?

SALAZAR: Slow down. Remember what Montrellous said about preparing a sandwich? There's too much anger in your fingers, girl. The sandwich is

your pulpit. It's where you preach the gospel of good eating.


YOUNG: I know, I know. He always be saying that but I don't really get what he means. It's like blah, blah, blah sandwich, whatever.


GOLODRYGA: What do the quest to find the perfect sandwich mean for Letitia and what role did Montrellous play in helping her find that?

YOUNG: On my journey throughout this play, it's really about finding my perfect sandwich, but also, really understanding myself to like tap into

like my greatest potential creative self. And, you know, there's a line that Montrellous says, you know, at a pivotal arc in my -- pivotal point in

my story. He says to defy expectation in your sandwich, even if the mouth that's tasting it doesn't receive it that way. And it's like something to

elevate your sandwich.

And that means, like, that's like another teaching point for me, like I start out not understanding anything that he is saying to really truly

tapping into my elevation of self and spirit. And so, I feel like the sandwich is the metaphor for my spirit and for understanding that, like I

can create the world that I want to live in, even in the world that I am living in that I can really still find some kind of joy that is my own

power, my own self, my own voice.

GOLODRYGA: Lynn, so much of this is about redemption, right, these are all flawed characters. Obviously, previously incarcerated. And you bring back a

character from "Sweat." You mentioned focusing on Redding, Pennsylvania. Jason is a white character in the play who had been incarcerated by a crime

that he committed in "Sweat." Here, he makes a reappearance here and he is immersed in a new crowd where he has white supremacist tattoos and he's

viewed upon skeptically, and yet, he, once again, finds a home of redemption.

Why did you decide to bring him back and talk about that issue of redemption in this play?

NOTTAGE: You know, it's interesting because at the end of "Sweat," Jason is a character who's committed this heinous hate crime and he was one of

the characters which was completely unresolved. And I felt like I had more to say about him. I wanted to be in conversation with him, hence, I invited

him into "Clyde's" as a character and I also think about what we've been through in this country and right now, with this cultural reckoning and how

do we move toward a place of healing.

And I think it's important as an artist is to invite some of the conversations that we're having at large onto the stage. And Jason, who

represents this white supremacist who enters the play pretty inflexible and goes through this very beautiful journey to understand that there is room

for forgiveness, that he also has room for growth, and I think that ultimately, where none of us, are the worst crime we've committed, that I'm

really interested in resilience and redemption and forgiveness. And how do we forge a path forward in the culture that's very fractured?

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And, Kara, you're sort of practicing in real life what Lynn is preaching through this play, and that is your work with 2nd Stage.

It's created apprenticeships for people who had been incarcerated to have an opportunity to explore work in theatre. Give us more on that and what

you have learned from some of the experiences that you've seen.

YOUNG: That life is just like, it's always zero. You always start at zero, right? And like you can -- I mean, opportunity is everything, and access to

opportunity is everything. And, you know, as an artist, supporting the potential of other artists, like I feel like everybody is an artist and I

think that that's the beauty that Lynn has written in this play is that we all have creativity in our bones. It's embedded in our DNA. It's just the

voice that we tell ourselves yes or no and to really lean into our potential creative -- you know, the creative gods within us, you know,

without using that word blasphemous, you know, it's to really own ourselves and own our voices, and that we all have the power to do that.


GOLODRYGA: Yes. And, Lynn, it's important to note that this play originally had been called "Floyd's," right, when it premiered and when it

would opened in Minneapolis in 2019, that was the name. And obviously following the murder of George Floyd, you changed it to "Clyde's." Talk

about that decision and what role, I guess, not only the murder of George Floyd played in what went into this play, but what happened culturally in

our country, the role that played?

NOTTAGE: Well, it's interesting. When we first premiered the play, it was called "Floyd's" and it was in Minneapolis. And when we decided to bring it

to New York, the world shifted. George Floyd was brutally murdered not far from where we premiered the play. And we found ourselves in the midst of

this pandemic and we felt when we were putting up "Clyde's" that we didn't want people to enter the play with preconceived notions.

It is a comedy. We wanted people to be able to open their hearts and sort of welcome these characters in without having to think about the trauma

that we've all been through. You know, earlier, you were talking about humor, and the wonderful thing about humor is that it is disarming and it

can be this conduit through which we can do many things, include filtering the truth and talking about this moment.

I think that what "Clyde's" is examining is just the complicated ways in which multiculturism is interfacing and trying to create a space in which

we can be in dialogue and I think that that's very much something that I was thinking about when I was rewriting the play because I wrote it before

George Floyd was murdered, but there's nothing that we can do now that isn't, in some way, imprinted with what happened. I mean, it's part of,

now, our cultural DNA.

And so, when we're rehearsing the play, we were thinking about how we could lose -- use language to heal and how this play really is about resilience

and beauty and hope and that that's what we wanted to convey in the moment in which we really feel like a lot of people need healing.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And it's not a happily ever after ending. That's for sure. But it does give hope and it does also make clear that there's a lot of

work that has yet to be done in this country as a society collectively.

But on the terms of bringing more diversity to Broadway, Lynn, what has this been like and what has this moment meant for you? I look back to an

interview that you gave when "Sweat" opened in 2017 and you said, the moment in which you walk up and see the marquee is absolutely magical. Do

you still feel that magic and has it been dimmed at all given the struggles that the industry has faced during the pandemic?

NOTTAGE: You know, this is a bittersweet moment. I think it's remarkable that you have eight plays by black writers that are premiering on Broadway.

And so, we have to pause and embrace how remarkable it is. And all of these plays are so diverse and wonderful in very different ways, and I think that

that is kind of remarkable. But it is bittersweet in that this moment is happening, and we're still in the midst of a pandemic and we're still

struggling to find audiences, even though "Clyde's" continues to run, there are 10 shows on Broadway which have been shuttered because of COVID.

And so, at once, I am thrilled to be in the company of so many sorts of insurgent wonderful voices, but I'm also cautiously optimistic because this

moment could pass.

GOLODRYGA: Well, let's hope it doesn't pass. Let's hope the moment that does pass is what you and your other fellow playwrights and actors, Kara,

had been struggling with the last two years, uncertainly, about work and being able to put food on the table because you don't know about the next

check coming in. But let's hope what doesn't pass is this window of exploration, of growing voices from different backgrounds telling their

stories on Broadway. It is a beautiful thing to see and "Clyde's" represents that so well.

Thank you both for joining us. It has been a joy speaking with you. Thank you.

YOUNG: Thank you so much.

NOTTAGE: We appreciate it.


GOLODRYGA: A really inspirational look at the challenges of starting again and the power of a truly good and delicious sandwich.


And finally, between Joe Manchin and the pandemic, it has been a tough week for President Biden. But as they say, if you want a friend in Washington,

get a dog.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Hey, pal. How you doing? How are you?


GOLODRYGA: And enter to the White House, Commander Biden. The three-month- old pup has taken up residence with the real commander in chief in the Oval Office. And rumor has it that a feline special adviser, a new cat, will

also be joining next month. So, something for dog lovers and cat lovers alike.

Well, that is it for now. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from New York.