Keynotes present diverse, visionary speakers who deliver the most powerful new ideas in the ever-evolving worlds of film, culture, music and technology. These speakers are the center of the SXSW Conference and exemplify the spirit, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial drive that SXSW cultivates.

2021 SXSW Keynote Willie Nelson - Photo by Pamela Springsteen

2021 SXSW Keynote Willie Nelson - Photo by Pamela Springsteen

About Keynotes


The fulcrum of each day’s SXSW Conference programming, each hour-long Keynote is a presentation of a compelling, timely topic by one of the world’s most inspired thinkers.

Get to know the 2021 Keynotes below from SXSW Online.

For more big-name speakers at SXSW, browse the Featured Speakers page.

2021 Keynotes


Stacey Abrams in Conversation with N.K. Jemisin

2021 SXSW Keynote, Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams is the New York Times bestselling author of Our Time is Now and Lead from the Outside, an entrepreneur, and political leader. After serving as Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, Abrams became the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia. Over the course of her career, she has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues. Dedicated to civic engagement, her most recent endeavors include: launching Fair Fight to ensure every American has a voice in our election system, Fair Count to ensure accuracy in the Census and greater participation in civic engagement, and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South. She serves on the Board of Advisors for Climate Power 2020, the Center for American Progress, and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, and is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Abrams received degrees from Spelman College, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and Yale Law School. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, she and her five siblings grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi and were raised in Georgia.

N.K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugos, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her most recent novel is the New York Times bestselling book The City We Became. She is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. She lives and writes in New York City.

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Willie Nelson in Conversation with Andy Langer

2021 SXSW Keynote Willie Nelson - Photo by Pamela Springsteen

Musician, author, actor, entrepreneur, and activist Willie Nelson has earned every conceivable award as a musician and continues to thrive as a relevant and progressive musical and cultural force. In recent years, he has delivered more than a dozen new albums; released a Top 10 New York Times’ bestselling book; again headlined Farm Aid, an event he co-founded in 1985; been honored by the Library of Congress with their Gershwin Prize for Popular Song; received his 5th degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yu Sul; headlined the annual Luck Reunion food and music festival during SXSW; and launched his cannabis companies Willie’s Reserve and Willie’s Remedy.

Willie Nelson will be in conversation with Texas Monthly writer-at-large and host of the magazine’s National Podcast of Texas Andy Langer.

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Pete Buttigieg in Conversation with Jonathan Capehart

Pete Buttigieg - Photo courtesy of speaker

Pete Buttigieg took office in January, 2021, as the 19th U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Prior to joining the Biden-Harris Administration, Secretary Buttigieg served two terms as mayor of his hometown of South Bend, Indiana. A graduate of Harvard University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Buttigieg served for seven years as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, taking a leave of absence from the mayor’s office for a deployment to Afghanistan in 2014. In South Bend, “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg worked across the aisle to transform the city’s future and improve residents’ everyday lives. In 2019, Secretary Buttigieg launched a historic campaign for president, and in 2021 made history as the first openly gay person confirmed to serve in a president’s Cabinet. Secretary Buttigieg lives with his husband Chasten and their rescue dogs, Buddy and Truman.

Pete Buttigieg will be in conversation with Jonathan Capehart of MSNBC.

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Charles Yu in Conversation with Lisa Ling

Charles Yu - Photo courtesy of speaker

Charles Yu is the author of four books, including his latest, Interior Chinatown, which was a New York Times bestseller and won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. He has written for shows on HBO, FX, AMC, Facebook Watch, and Adult Swim. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and Wired, among other publications. He lives in southern California with his family.

Charles Yu will be in conversation with award-winning journalist Lisa Ling who is the host and executive producer of the CNN Original Series, This is Life with Lisa Ling.

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Priya Parker in Conversation with Anand Giridharadas

Priya Parker - Photo by Jeff Allen

Priya Parker is helping us take a deeper look at how anyone can create collective meaning in modern life, one gathering at a time. She is a master facilitator, strategic advisor, acclaimed author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, and executive producer and host of the New York Times podcast, Together Apart. Trained in the field of conflict resolution, Parker has worked on race relations on American college campuses and on peace processes in the Arab world, southern Africa, and India. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two children.

Anand Giridharadas is the publisher at The.Ink as well as the author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, and India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking. He is the editor-at-large for Time magazine and political analyst for MSNBC.

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