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Stacey Abrams among big names added to SXSW lineup

Eric Webb
Austin 360
Former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams speaks at the downtown Hilton during South by Southwest 2019 in Austin.

South by Southwest organizers on Thursday announced that politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams will appear as a keynote for this year’s festival. 

Abrams is set for a conversation with author N.K. Jemisin (“The City We Became”) during the fest, which will go virtual this year from March 16-20 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year’s festival was the first major event canceled in the early days of the pandemic last spring. 

More:Oprah Winfrey to be keynote speaker at SXSW Edu

The festival also announced several other big names from the worlds of entertainment and business as featured speakers and featured session participants for the 2021 event. 

“Titanic” filmmaker and National Geographic “explorer at large” James Cameron will talk about the making of Disney+ documentary “Secrets of the Whales” with National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry. “Tapestry” singer/songwriter Carole King will appear in conversation with Sony Music Publishing exec Jon Platt. Also: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Michael Rainey Jr., Mekai Curtis, Patina Miller and Joseph Sikora will discuss the universe of the Starz show “Power.” 

Singer-songwriter Carole King arrives for the 2019 American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theatre on November 24, 2019, in Los Angeles.

As expected from SXSW, this year’s panel topics span the zeitgeist, with sessions on subjects like the Tulsa Race Massacre, gene editing, the future of music venues, COVID-19, space exploration, Indigenous communities’ roles in conservation efforts, amplifying the voices of Black athletes and more. Some other notable names appearing in sessions: 

• Austin jewelry designer Kendra Scott and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban talking about entrepreneurship in Texas 

• Olympian Alexi Pappas in conversation with actor/comedian Bill Hader about mental health  

• Singer/actress Demi Lovato in conversation with artist and writer ALOK about gender identity  

•  TV showrunner and Austinite Noah Hawley and musician Andrew Bird discussing “how a concert in Austin lead to Bird’s acting debut” in Hawley’s “Fargo” series 

• Filmmakers Andrew and Joe Russo (“Avengers: Endgame”) in conversation with actress/director/producer Elizabeth Banks about new film “Cherry” 

• Comedians and talk show hosts Samantha Bee and Amber Ruffin in a “Late Night Girls Club” session 

Noah Hawley, the Austin resident and creator of the "Fargo" TV series, photographed at the South Congress Hotel on May 6, 2016.

More big names now on the schedule include entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, internet star David Dobrik, philanthropist Melinda Gates, actress/scientist Miyam Bialik, filmmaker Erin Lee Carr, football player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, writer/podcast host Lori Gottlieb, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, DJ Steve Aoki, musician Imogen Heap, author Walter Isaacson, journalist Katie Couric, TV showrunner Bill Lawrence and comedians/media personalities Desus Nice and the Kid Mero. 

“We're truly excited about the remarkable range of creative talent and innovators that we've announced today as part of SXSW Online,” Hugh Forrest, SXSW chief programming officer, said in a statement. “In the 30 plus years of SXSW, we’ve showcased so many incredible voices who have shown tremendous courage and leadership, which is why we're excited to add Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stacey Abrams as a keynote for 2021. Moreover, her conversation with science fiction writer N.K. Jemisin taps into the kind of creative energy that only happens at SXSW.” 

More:Tom Petty, Charli XCX docs coming to SXSW Film 2021: see the full lineup

On Wednesday, SXSW also released the full slate for its film festival. “Alone Together,” a documentary about pop artist Charli XCX, and “Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free,” a film about the late rock star, were added as headlining films. 

For more information on the schedule and how to attend, go to