How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers

Claudia Kalb

BA Amherst, MA Columbia (SIPA)

best-selling author and journalist

Why do prodigies reach extraordinary heights in childhood while others peak decades later? What role do personality traits play in the livelihoods people pursue? Are we born with talent or lured by passion? 

These questions, which have stoked the minds of philosophers and psychologists for centuries, inspired Claudia Kalb to explore the trajectories of 13 iconic figures who left colossal footprints in a variety of fields— from art and music to medicine, business, and politics--in her new book Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers.

Please join us in this stimulating presentation as master storyteller Kalb explains the relationship between brains, talent, passion, creativity, willpower, and imagination. Each of the individuals Kalb profiles achieved greatness at different moments in life: Yo-Yo Ma was four when he learned how to play Bach's cello suites; Sara Blakely launched her multimillion-dollar company, Spanx, at 29; Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin at 47; Peter Mark Roget wrote his famed thesaurus in his 70s; and Anna Mary Robertson Moses (Grandma Moses) launched her career as an internationally renowned artist in her 80s.

In her talk, Kalb will share vignettes from her reporting, including: visiting the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci; standing in Isaac Newton's bedroom and looking out on his famed apple garden; and interviewing family members of those she profiles, including Shirley Temple's son and daughter, Picasso's grandchildren, and Eleanor Roosevelt's grandson.

Through these experiences, along with deep dives into scientific research, Kalb explores the timeline of discovery and the arc of genius among great achievers throughout history and today.

Time will be allocated for Q&A.

Claudia Kalb is an award-winning author and journalist who reports on health, science, and human behavior. She is the author of Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers. Her first book, Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, was a 2016 New York Times bestseller. A former senior writer at Newsweek, Claudia has written hundreds of features over three decades on topics ranging from mental health and genetic testing to memory and creativity. Her most recent magazine features include a series of cover stories for National Geographic on the origins of genius. She lives with her family in Alexandria, Virginia. You can read more about Claudia’s work at

September 08, 2021 at 6:30pm - 8pm


Washington, DC
United States

Miyako Yerick


Will you come?