top of page

Speaker bios are in alphabetical order:

Judith Black

Storytelling and Climate Disruption


Judith Black is one of America’s finest storytellers. She is the winner of the Oracle Award, storytelling's most coveted laurel. She makes people think and laugh through retellings of history from new perspectives, tickling familial dysfunction, and ironic explorations of aging. She has performed at many venues including the Montreal Comedy Festival, The Smithsonian Institution, and in Africa.


Additionally, Judith sings, directs a peer mentoring program, teaches the art of storytelling, and is a fanatic gardener and environmental advocate.

For more about Judith, look here

Matthew Dicks

Homework for Life

 "Homework for Life" is a strategy that I originally began using to generate more story topics for the stage, but as I began to use the strategy daily, it changed my life. It made everything about my life so much more vivid and slowed my life down remarkably. It's a strategy I teach to my storytelling classes often, and I've had people tell me that it has replaced therapy and meditation for them. It truly changes lives. Powerful.    


Matthew Dicks is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo, and The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs. His novels have been translated into more than 25 languages worldwide. He is also the author of the rock opera The Clowns and the musicals Caught in the Middle and Sticks & Stones. He is the humor columnist for Seasons magazine and has published work in The Hartford Courant, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, and The Christian Science Monitor. He has also written comic books for DoubleTake Comics. 


When not hunched over a computer screen, he fills his days as an elementary school teacher, a storyteller, a blogger, a wedding DJ, a minister, a life coach, and a Lord of Sealand. He has been teaching for 17 years and is a former West Hartford Teacher of the Year and a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year.

Matthew is a 19-time Moth StorySLAM champion and three-time GrandSLAM champion whose stories have been featured on their nationally syndicated Moth Radio Hour and their weekly podcast. He has also told stories for The American Life, TED, The Colin McEnroe Show, The Story Collider, The Liar Show, Literary Death Match, The Mouth, and many others. He is a regular guest on several Slate podcasts, including The Gist, where he teaching storytelling. 

Matthew is also the co-founder and creative director of Speak Up, a Hartford-based storytelling organization that produces shows throughout New England. He also teaches storytelling and public speaking throughout the world to individuals, corporations, school districts, and more. He has most recently taught at Yale, The University of Connecticut Law School, Purdue University, Kripalu, and Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil.   


Matthew is married to friend and fellow teacher, Elysha, and they have two children, Clara and Charlie. He grew up in the small town of Blackstone, Massachusetts, where he made a name for himself by dying twice before the age of eighteen and becoming the first student in his high school to be suspended for inciting riot upon himself.

Senator Ben Downing

The Power of Community

Senator Downing’s talk will consist of reflections on growing up in the Berkshire region during a time of economic transition, the impact that transition has on the psychology of that community and why, if we recognize those impacts, we will be able to make the Berkshires all we know they can and should be.

Benjamin Downing is the State Senator for the 52 communities of the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden district. As Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which is tasked with reviewing all legislative matters concerning renewable and non-renewable energy sources. A Pittsfield native, Senator Downing received his B.A. in Political Science from Providence College in 2003. In May 2008 he received a M.A. from Tufts University’s Department of Urban and Environment Policy & Planning. First elected to the State Senate in 2006, he announced this year that he would not seek re-election after completing his fifth term.


For more about Senator Ben Downing look here

Giovanna Fessenden 

Blockchain Revolution

The success of the digital currency Bitcoin is due in large part to its underlying architecture, the block chain. The block chain is distributed-ledger technology that enables payments and other transactions to be processed and stored in an entirely decentralized way—without banks or other intermediaries. The block chain’s distributed-ledger helps keep its content resistant to tampering and modification. This distributed architecture of the block chain helps eliminate the chances of having a single point of failure and makes it more robust against hacking. Giovanna will discuss what the future may hold for an internet augmented by the block chain – a block chain internet where nothing can be deleted or modified.

Giovanna has been practicing as intellectual property (IP) attorney specializing software patents for fifteen years. Giovanna dedicates a significant portion of her practice to advising businesses in technology and the creative economy. Her firm, Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds, is an Intellectual Property boutique with offices in the Boston Seaport and Concord. In addition to expertise in intellectual property law (including patents, copyright, and trademark), Giovanna concentrated in computer science and art history in her undergraduate studies at Smith College. She has lived in Lenox, Massachusetts for nine years with her family. She spends her free time competing in triathlons as well as rowing, paddle boarding, and in the pottery studio.

For more about Giovanna look here

David Gelles

Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out

David writes the Revalued column and other features for the Sunday Business section of the New York Times. At the Times, he previously covered mergers and acquisitions for DealBook.  

Before joining the Times in 2013, he spent five years with the Financial Times. At the FT, he covered tech, media and M&A in San Francisco and New York. In 2011 he conducted an exclusive jailhouse interview with Bernie Madoff, shedding new light on the $65 billion ponzi scheme.


Mindful Work, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2015, brings together his 15 years of meditation practice and his work as a business journalist. 

He lives in New York City.

For more about David look here

Dr. Andrew Gerber

Precision Psyciatry

Andrew J. Gerber is medical director and CEO of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, associate clinical professor at the Child Study Center at Yale University, adjunct associate professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and associate clinical professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the former co-director of the Sackler Parent-Infant Program at Columbia University, former director of the MRI Research Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and former director of research at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.

Learn more here.  

Tzvia Gover

Joyful Night:

How Our Fear of the Dark Can Lead Us Back to Sweet Sleep and Good Dreams

Tzivia Gover is the author of The Mindful Way to a Good Night’s Sleep and Joy in Every Moment, and others. She is a writer, educator, and certified dream therapist and the director of the Institute of Dream Studies. Gover has led numerous workshops and panels about dreams, mindfulness, and writing, and she holds an MFA in writing from Columbia University. She is an active member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and the founder of 350 Dreamers, an international network of people who dream together for global healing. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, and can be found online at

Yehudah Hanani

Political Protest in Music

Soloist, chamber musician, master teacher, essayist, and ambassador for the arts, Yehuda Hanani illuminates and enlightens audiences on the essence of music.


Yehuda Hanani’s charismatic playing and profound interpretations bring him acclaim and reengagements across the globe. An extraordinary recitalist, he is equally renowned for performances with orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and many more.  He has been a guest at Aspen, Bowdoin, Chautauqua, Marlboro, Yale at Norfolk, among others, and has collaborated in performances with preeminent fellow musicians, including Leon Fleisher, Aaron Copland, Christoph Eschenbach, David Robertson, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Itzhak Perlman, and others. In New York City, Yehuda Hanani has appeared as soloist at Carnegie Hall, the 92nd Street Y, Alice Tully, and the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rodgers Auditorium.

His pioneering recording of the monumental Alkan Cello Sonata received a Grand Prix du Disque nomination, and his other discs have won wide recognition. Professor of Cello at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, he presents masterclasses internationally at numerous top conservatories and orchestras. His engaging chamber music with commentary series, Close Encounters With Music, has captivated audiences from Miami to Kansas City, Omaha, Calgary, Scottsdale, the Berkshires, and at the Frick Collection in New York City.  His weekly program on NPR affiliate station WAMC Northeast Radio, “Classical Music According to Yehuda,” has gained thousands of fans. A recent addition to his concert activities and educational mission is the founding of the High Peaks Festival, a teaching and chamber music festival in Hunter, New York.

Dr. Mark Hyman


Mark Hyman, MD has dedicated his career to identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic illness through a groundbreaking whole-systems medicine approach known as Functional Medicine. He is a family physician, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader in his field. He is currently medical editor at the Huffington Post and on the Medical Advisory Board at The Doctor Oz Show. He is on the Board of Directors of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and a faculty member of its Food As Medicine training program. He is also on the Board of Advisors of Memhet Oz's HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by "educating the student body" in American high schools about nutrition, fitness and mental resilience. He is a volunteer for Partners in Health with whom he worked immediately after the earthquake in Haiti and continues to help rebuild the health care system there. He was featured on 60 Minutes for his work there.

More at:

Ty Allen Jackson

Read or Else

Low literacy directly or indirectly affects every American and costs the US at least $225 billion dollars in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue each year due to unemployment. In this talk, author and literacy advocate Ty Allan Jackson will breakdown the importance of creating a movement to shine a light on this problem and what we can do to fight against it. 

Ty Allan Jackson is a children’s book author, publisher, community leader, literacy advocate and motivational speaker.  Ty travels across the country empowering children of all ages about the joy and power of reading. His books have been used by companies such as Google, The YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club, The United Way as well as numerous financial institutions and countless schools across the country inspiring children to dream big.  He is also the co-founder of the Read Or Else movement, created to shine a light on the problem of illiteracy and to provide books to children in homeless shelters across America.


Ty has three amazing children who are the source of his inspiration. Ty was born and raised in the Bronx, NY but now proudly calls Pittsfield, Massachusetts home. You can learn more about Ty and his mission to promote literacy at and

Margaret Keller

The Art of Seeing: How to Look at Disability


Being told “Don’t stare!” might be the first memory some of us have of encountering a person with a disability. And in fact, when it comes to disability, our culture has collectively tended to avert its gaze. How do we, as individuals and as a culture, turn around a history where the polite thing was not to look? How do we learn to see the richness and complexity of an individual: A person who prefers cats or maybe dogs, who likes or doesn’t like chocolate, who is so unique as to defy categorization. How do we look, really look, at disability?


Margaret Keller is Executive Director of Community Access to the Arts (CATA), a nonprofit organization that nurtures and celebrates the creativity of 600 people with disabilities across Berkshire County. After completing her doctoral coursework at the University of Chicago, she was lured away from the ivory tower by the nonprofit world, where she discovered her passion for bringing the arts and humanities to wider audiences. As Associate Director of the Chicago Humanities Festival, Margaret led program development for an annual city-wide celebration of art and ideas, working with major thinkers, artists, and cultural organizations. For her work expanding the festival’s audience, she was chosen by the Chicago Tribune as one of the city’s most influential people in the arts in 2001. She has been a grantwriter, founded an alumni magazine focused on cutting-edge humanities research, and managed foundation relations at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and has been on advisory boards for the Chicago History Museum and the Center for Public Intellectuals. 

Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart

The Wisdom of  Jokes

More than forty years ago, Danny and Tom studied philosophy together at Harvard. Their friendship endured decades and thru twists and turns, directly led to them to becoming improbable NYTimes bestselling authors with Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar. 


In their upcoming talk, Klein and Cathcart share their discovery of the fact that we are all philosophers.  It turns out that the deep cultural wisdom of our society is embedded in jokes--of all things--and we all "get" it.  Professional philosophers merely dress it up in incomprehensible academic jargon.  So come prepared to laugh--and maybe even learn a bit.


To learn more about them, visit here

Coby Kozlowski

One-Degree Revolution: Small Shifts, Big Changes



The life we crave may just be a one-degree of change away.  The world is shifting. Let’s wake up, show up, and skillfully participate in the expansion and evolution of our selves, our communities, and our planet.  

Coby Kozlowski M.A., A leader in the revolution for inspired living and action. Sought after as an expert in transformative leadership and as a yoga, dance, and meditation educator. Known for her heartfelt humor, illuminating wisdom, and powerful punch to wake up, start living, and skillfully engage with the rhythms of life.  


She is faculty for Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health where she leads 200hr and 300hr yoga teacher trainings. Coby has been featured on the cover of Yoga Journal Magazine and was named  “one of the 7 yoga teachers who have changed the practice [of yoga]”.


Also faculty for Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA, where she leads her month-long program Integral Leadership, a unique and life-affirming approach to personal and professional leadership using contemplative and cutting-edge wisdom.  

Coby is the founder of Karma Yoga Leadership Intensive: A One Degree Revolution, Souluna Life Coach Certification, the evolutionary program Quarter-Life Calling: Creating an Extraordinary Life in Your 20s and is a trainer for the Radiance Sutra Meditation Teacher Training. 

Her book Wave Rider: Insights and Inquires for Living Yoga is forthcoming.

Mike Markham

Your Dream is Available

Mike Markham is one of the world's premier ring announcers and has announced MMA, boxing and kickboxing events across the United States and around the world. His voice has echoed through venues from Miami to Moscow and in many places between and beyond. Mike has worked with over 50 event promoters, franchises and institutions across the globe to passionately enhance the presentation of sporting events through his signature sound. 


This didn't happen by accident.  Come hear the story of how Mike made this happen.

A proud native of New Orleans, Louisiana and resident of Charlotte, North Carolina Mike enjoys spending time with his wife Ginger and son Jack when he's not engrossed in the adventures, challenges and triumphs of entrepreneurship and life in the sports industry. 

To learn more about Mike, look here

Dr. Jennifer Michaels

How to Build a Better Brain

We are bombarded with information about how to create  better, stronger, sleeker muscles. But guidance about how to build more functional and happier brains is lacking. 


Learn about the inner workings of this 3 pound powerhouse  and how to exercise it to maximize your happiness, well-being and connectivity to others.

Jennifer Michaels is the Medical Director of the Brien Center and an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is a national mentor for the Physician Clinical Support System, an educational program for physicians entering the field of addiction. Dr. Michaels frequently guests on public radio, WAMC. She is a committed community educator on topics related to mental health, mindfulness, and addictions.

Daniel H. Neilson

The Global Economy, Close at Hand


China's stock market crash in August of this year once again puts distant economic turmoil in the headlines. News about China's economy is often met with confusion, not least by economists themselves. But if we can let go of a few of our preconceptions, and of what we were taught in economics class, we can see that the Chinese economy is not so distant after all. And along the way, we'll learn something about the local economy, about socialism and capitalism, and about the global financial system.


Daniel H. Neilson is a monetary economist, specializing in the interaction between monetary policy and the financial system. His research has focused on China's financial markets, on the structure of the global monetary system, and on the evolution of the Federal Reserve. Dr. Neilson is the principal of Wallace Hall Company, which provides independent, global, quantitative and qualitative strategic research on central banking, monetary policy, the Chinese economy, and related topics. He is a visiting assistant professor of economics at Bard College at Simon's Rock, where he teaches macroeconomics and finance.

Previously, Dr. Neilson was an economist at George Soros's economic think tank, where he created a global research program to promote novel and critical theories for understanding issues of financial stability. Dr. Neilson holds a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University and a B.A. in mathematics and music from Bard College at Simon's Rock. He lives with his family in Monterey, MA.

Representative Smitty Pignatelli

The Importance of Local Communities in an Increasingly Networked World

State Representative Wm. Smitty Pignatelli is a lifelong resident of Lenox, Massachusetts and a graduate of the Lenox Public Schools. Smitty, as he prefers to be called, was named after his father’s best friend, William Smith, who was killed during World War II. After graduating from Lenox Memorial High School in 1977, Smitty became a licensed Master Electrician and worked in his family’s electrical contracting business for twenty years. Smitty took over the full operation of the business at the time of his father’s retirement in 1991. Smitty left the family business to his brother Scott, in 1998, when he was offered a position as the Business Development Manager for Lee Bank. While at the bank, he attended Babson College School for Financial Studies, graduating in 2001. Longing to serve the people of his beloved Berkshire District, he decided to leave the bank to pursue his dream of public service and run for higher office. Smitty won the seat of State Representative for the 4th Berkshire District and is currently serving his eighth term in the House of Representatives.

Smitty was first elected to the Lenox Planning Board in 1987 and served on that board for five years. In 1992, he was elected to the Board of Selectmen, and was elected Chairman on four different occasions, serving until May of 2003. Smitty also served from 1995-1999 as a Berkshire County Commissioner including two years as Chairman of the board.

With over 30 years of public service experience, Smitty has also been involved in many local associations. He is a member of the Berkshire County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, a past board member of the Berkshire Association of Retarded Citizens, the Board of Directors of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, the Berkshire County Red Cross and is a former President of the Lenox Historical Society.

Pastor Michael Tuck

Serious Make Believe


Michael Tuck is an Episcopal priest currently serving the two Episcopal congregations in Lenox Massachusetts (Trinity Church and St. Helena’s Chapel).  Prior to coming to Lenox, Michael served as the Episcopal Campus Minister at Brown University and as the assistant at St. Stephen’s Church in Providence, RI. In his secular life, Michael worked as a human resources consultant with the Hay Group specializing in job design and compensation analysis. Michael studied Theology and Pastoral Studies at the College of the Resurrection (Mirfield, UK) and completed and MA with Distinction from the University of Leeds (UK). Michael graduated from Brown University with an AB (Honors).  Throughout his ordained ministry and in his secular career, Michael has been fascinated with people’s stories and how they understand themselves.

For more about Michael Tuck look here. 

Jacob Robbins

An American Dreams

Jacob Robbins is a recent high school graduate and is a Berkshire County native. He is also amazingly optimistic about our country's future. Are we living in times of great division and hardship? Absolutely. Is there a lot to look forward to? Yes. He believes we need not look any further than our own community here in the Berkshires. Through the power of story and history, Jacob will paint a picture of progress. At the end of the day, while we may be divided by politics, race, gender, and wealth, we are all untied by one aspect: we are all American.


Kermit Roosevelt

Myth America: The Declaration, The Constitution, and Us

Kermit is a professor of constitutional law at The University of Pennsylvania, an award winning author, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice David Souter, and the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.  Hailed as one of today's most distinctive voices in the public forum, he offers an inspring perspective that prompts up to re-think who we are as individuals and as a nation; how we can be a more united country; and how each individual voice in a democracy can shape the character of America.

To learn more about Kermit, look here

Benji Seckler

Fighting Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Charley's Fund is named for Tracy and Benji Seckler's son, Charley, who, to the casual observer, is simply a quirky little kid with irresistible curls and a mischievous sense of humor. Charley's devilish smile belies what is going on inside his body, for his muscles are deteriorating at an alarming pace. Unless a cure or treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is found, Charley will lose his ability to walk by adolescence, and subsequently lose all muscle function. Like all boys with Duchenne, he will die from respiratory or heart failure in his late teens or early twenties. Charley's Fund was incorporated four months after the diagnosis. By refusing to surrender, the Seckler's turned a basic assumption on its head -- that the most complicated problems require a phd or an expert to come up with solutions. Their experience teaches us that in fact, it is determination and innovation that can drive toward a solution. And that determination and innovation can come from anyone.

To learn more:

Jen Salinetti

The Journey of This Seed


As we journey through the gifts of the seasons, I'd like to share with you some of the humble lessons that I have learned from the life cycle of this seed, this special seed that my husband's great-grandfather carried over from Italy.  Simple, and deep.

Jennifer Salinetti earned a bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Herbal Studies from the University of Massachusetts.  She furthered her studies through apprenticeships on organic farms and at education centers before starting her own family business.  Jen and her husband own and operate Woven Roots Farm, a vegetable CSA, based in the Berkshires, that focuses on bio-intensive growing using no-till and environmentally sound farming practices.  For the past 15 years, Jen has taught classes and has lead garden education programs throughout New England and has been actively involved in the local food movement within the Berkshires.  She is currently developing an education center at their homestead in Tyringham, MA.


Tracy Seckler

Lessons from a Teenage Wise Man

Tracy Kramer Seckler was living a charmed life in the Berkshires with her family when, in 2004, a poisonous dart fell from the clear blue sky. Her middle son Charley was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the #1 genetic killer of children worldwide. Just a few months after the diagnosis, Tracy and her husband Dr. Benjamin Seckler co-founded the nonprofit organization Charley’s Fund to help develop treatments for the dread disease. Charley’s Fund has been instrumental in advancing new therapies into clinical trials, and remains dedicated to saving Charley and many thousands of children like him all over the world.

Before devoting her life to ending Duchenne, Tracy -- a graduate of Harvard college and Columbia University -- was a middle school English teacher.  


While Tracy focuses intently on changing the future, she noticed something interesting about Charley: he was living intently in the present. In her upcoming talk, she will share what she has learned from observing her 15-year old son: no matter how black a cloud may loom overhead, you can still live a life full of humor, love and delight. Take it from Charley.

For more about Charley's Fund look here. 

Dr. Maria Sirois

Living an Authentic Life

Dr. Maria Sirois is an inspirational speaker, consultant, and licensed clinical psychologist who has worked in the fields of wellness and positive psychology for twenty years. As a lecturer and motivational speaker, Maria has been invited to keynote at conferences for wellness organizations, businesses, hospitals, hospices, religious and philanthropic institutions around the country. A master storyteller, her lectures and workshops combine powerful and moving anecdotes with research to bring an audience to the place we all most want to be: moved to tears, joy and positive action within the lives we are already living. Addressing topics as diverse as "Sustaining Resilience in the Presence of Suffering," "Every Day Counts: Flourishing No Matter What," and "The Heart in Philanthropy," she has been called both a "true teacher," and "an orator of great power and beauty."

To learn more:

Danielle Valenti

Facing Death Full of Life

Watching your mother wither away—and eventually die—from an incurable brain disorder would be horrific enough for most people. But Danielle survived that burden only to find she was doomed to the same fate. Knowing it isn't a matter of “if” but “when”. Danielle refuses to let her terminal diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease stop her from living a full life.


Committed to helping others, Danielle has volunteered for numerous organizations over the years. She currently is actively involved with Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) and serves on the board of the Albany Affiliate. She is passionate about generating awareness of this incurable disease, and periodically participates in educational workshops. She shares her and her mother's story. As an HDSA advocate, she hopes to convince legislators to enact a compassionate dying law that will include people with HD.  

Danielle was born and raised in the Berkshires and studied communications and marketing at Western New England University in Springfield, MA. She is currently vice-president for customer success at Merit, a tech company in Albany, and lives in Troy, NY, with her boyfriend, a crazy puppy and a love for traveling. When she has spare time, Danielle meditates and practices yoga for physical and mental strength.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Life and Joie de Vivre

“You can’t be a risk taker and expect to win each and every time. If you could control the future, then you wouldn’t be taking any risks. And while failure leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, the sweetness of winning more than makes up for it, and you’ll never win at anything unless you take a risk in the first place.”   ~Dr. Ruth


Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist who pioneered speaking frankly about sexual matters on radio with her program, Sexually Speaking. It began in September of 1980 as a fifteen minute, taped show that aired Sundays after midnight on WYNY-FM (NBC) in New York. One year later it became a live, one-hour show airing at 10 PM on which Dr. Ruth, as she became known, answered call-in questions from listeners. Soon it became part of a communications network to distribute Dr. Westheimer's expertise which has included television, books, newspapers, games, home video, computer software and her own website,

bottom of page