Opening Up to Challenging Conversations

Free speech activist Zachary R. Wood shows audiences why difficult conversations matter, and how to facilitate them.
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Zachary R. Wood

Why It’s Worth Listening to People You Disagree With: Zachary R.  Wood shares why people you disagree with may be the most valuable resource to learn from in this illuminating TED Talk.

Program Topics

  • Uncensored

    In recounting how the ability to communicate and engage with a broad array of people led him from a troubled neighborhood in Washington D.C. to an elite private high school and eventually, Williams College, Zachary R. Wood makes the case that in a divided time it is more important than ever for people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to interact.

  • From the Front Lines of Free Speech

    During his time at Williams College, Wood brought numerous controversial speakers to campus as the president of Uncomfortable Learning. Wood details the backlash he received surrounding these events from students and administrators alike, and models what an ideal event with a challenging speaker should look like, equipping listeners to host and debate with people of all perspectives.



As the former president of the student group Uncomfortable Learning at his alma mater, Williams College, Zachary R. Wood knows from experience about intellectual controversy. At school and beyond, there’s no one Wood refuses to engage with simply because he disagrees with their beliefs—sometimes vehemently so—and this view has given him a unique platform in the media.

But Wood has never shared the details of his own personal story. In Uncensored, he reveals for the first time how he grew up poor and black in Washington, DC, where the only way to survive was by resisting the urge to write people off because of their backgrounds and perspectives. By sharing his troubled upbringing—from a difficult early childhood to the struggles of code-switching between his home and his elite private school—Wood makes a compelling argument for a new way of interacting with others and presents a new outlook on society’s most difficult conversations.

FORMATS AVAILABLE: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, Audio

PAGE COUNT; PUBLICATION DATE: 272 Pages; June 19, 2018


“In this remarkably honest memoir, Zachary R. Wood has written a veritable bildungsroman, tracing his journey from high school scholarship student from a poor black neighborhood in Washington, DC, to leader of the free speech movement at Williams College. This work provides a timely view of both political life on elite college campuses and the struggles of the working poor against the backdrop of institutional racism.” 

—Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“There is nothing predictable or even familiar about this astonishing memoir by Zachary Wood, despite its components of race and class. It’s a work alternately harrowing and exhilarating in its unflinching detail of survival – its picture of a child waking in daily fear wondering what the day with his mentally ill mother will bring. The exhilaration comes with Mr. Wood’s sterling command of his narrative, which is impossible to put down once begun. Its author began reading at a very early age and never stopped. His story is, in addition to all else, profound and eloquent testimony to books and reading and their power to make a life.” 

—Dorothy Rabinowitz, author of No Crueler Tyrannies
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