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Piper Kerman

April 14, 2020
Mountainlair Ballrooms
7:30 p.m.

Book signing to follow.

Piper Kerman
Photo credit: Michael Oppenheim

Piper Kerman, author of the memoir Orange is the New Black, speaks on embracing our leadership potential in talks that are as eye-opening as they are engaging. Since her “crucible experience,” in which she served 13 months in federal prison for a nonviolent drug offense more than 10 years previously, Piper has focused on giving a voice to forgotten Americans—the millions of people who are currently incarcerated. In her talks, she challenges audiences to leverage their own “crucible experiences” to make their lives, and those of others, better. 

Piper urges us not to be defined by our failures, but hers is not the typical learn-from-your-mistakes rap. In her hopeful and often humorous talks, Piper speaks to her own experience becoming a change agent: identifying a social problem and making it her job to fix it. In prison, Piper became aware of how deeply unjust our criminal justice system is, and since her release she has been a fierce advocate for reform. Her experiences are a case study in leveraging mistakes to drive progress in even the most change-resistant environments, from ossified corporations to a rigid criminal justice system. 

Rather than papering over her time in prison, Piper has used her experiences as a springboard to start a national conversation about criminal justice reform. As a communications consultant at Spitfire Strategies, where she helped drive mission-oriented digital strategy and branding campaigns, Piper had the skills to call attention to the egregious injustices of mass incarceration. When Orange is the New Black became a TV series and a bestseller, she realized she had the platform she needed to lead for change. 

Piper also offers an unrivaled perspective on the importance of women leaders and the resilience of women’s communities. As the inspiration behind Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, which The Washington Post called “the best TV show about prison ever made,” Piper has helped call attention to the staggering rise in female incarceration in the US over the last 30 years. As overzealous prosecution and mass incarceration cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity, Piper speaks to the economic benefits of reducing recidivism and reintegrating millions of people into the workforce. 

In her public advocacy work, Piper exemplifies how humor and compassion are essential to effective leadership. She serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association and the advisory boards of the PEN America Writing For Justice Fellowship, InsideOUT Writers, Healing Broken Circles, and JustLeadershipUSA. Part of her success comes from her capacity to reach across the aisle, connecting people of different ideologies who agree on the need for systemic change. Her work has been recognized by the White House Champions for Change Program, John Jay College's Center on Media, Crime and Justice; the Constitution Project; and the Equal Justice Initiative.

Piper has spoken to policymakers, human resources professionals, and audiences at Amazon, national law firms such as BakerHostetler, the YWCA,, and distinguished universities like Harvard, and Stanford, among many other groups. She has also testified on criminal justice reform before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. Always one to walk the walk, Piper spent four years teaching creative writing in two Ohio state prisons as an Affiliate Instructor with Otterbein University.