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Neda Ulaby

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.

Scouring the various and often overlapping worlds of art, music, television, film, new media and literature, Ulaby's stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions.

A twenty-year veteran of NPR, Ulaby started as a temporary production assistant on the cultural desk, opening mail, booking interviews and cutting tape with razor blades. Over the years, she's also worked as a producer and editor and won a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation for hosting a podcast of NPR's best arts stories.

Ulaby also hosted the Emmy-award winning public television series Arab American Stories in 2012 and earned a 2019 Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. She's also been chosen for fellowships at the Getty Arts Journalism Program at USC Annenberg and the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

Before coming to NPR, Ulaby worked as managing editor of Chicago's Windy City Times and co-hosted a local radio program, What's Coming Out at the Movies. A former doctoral student in English literature, Ulaby has contributed to academic journals and taught classes in the humanities at the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and at high schools serving at-risk students.

Ulaby worked as an intern for the features desk of the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. But her first appearance in print was when she was only four days old. She was pictured on the front page of the New York Times, as a refugee, when she and her parents were evacuated from Amman, Jordan, during the conflict known as Black September.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The same day the president announced his nominee for the Supreme Court, this girl power song got a nod from the first lady.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS FOR MY GIRLS")

As if there's not enough controversy over the Oscars, there's also the matter of a curse.

Chances are you've heard at least one song written by Diane Warren: "Rhythm of the Night," "Don't Turn Around," "Unbreak My Heart" and "If I Could Turn Back Time" are just a handful of her 70 or so Top 10 hits.

"Look at someone like this guy right here," Alex Taub says, intently peering at his laptop screen.

We're in Taub's office right off Union Square in New York City. It's the headquarters of SocialRank, the startup he co-founded. SocialRank shows companies and public figures with brands to promote which of their followers on Twitter and Instagram are most valuable.

Taub's pulled up his own Twitter account to show me one of his own followers, someone who seems valuable.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize is often called the Nobel for architects, and this year's winner is 48-year-old Chilean designer Alejandro Aravena. His prestige projects include the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company in China and a dormitory at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.

The Great British Bake Off was the most popular program in Britain in 2015, and the show boasts a devout following in the U.S. [Ed. Note: If you're part of that U.S. following, be warned: We're about to discuss the most recent season, which hasn't yet aired in the U.S.]

Ellsworth Kelly, one of the greatest American artists of the past century, has died at 92.

Kelly died at his home in Spencertown, N.Y., says gallery owner Matthew Marks, who has represented the artist for two decades. Kelly is survived by his longtime partner Jack Shear.

For many American Jews, Christmas Day means Chinese food and movies. But how do American Muslims spend their time on Christmas?

Jesus is also revered as a prophet in Islam. "Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus is the only messiah," explains Hisham Mahmoud, an Arabic teacher at Harvard University. He points out that Jesus' mother, Mary, is considered by Muslims to be a saint. "In fact, there's an entire chapter in the Quran called 'Mary,' and the story of Jesus' birth is recounted in that chapter," he says.

Sometimes an aging movie star must sit and watch as a charismatic newcomer steals the spotlight — even inanimate ones. R2-D2, the adorable little robot — or droid — first appeared in Star Wars in 1977. And over the years he's faced cute competition from Yoda, and the Ewoks. But the latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, brings us what might be an even cuter new droid: BB-8.

For some of us, the best part of Thanksgiving comes from a forkful of flavors all swirled together — turkey, gravy, cranberry and stuffing. It's a savory symphony in your mouth.

Chefs in New York City are experimenting with putting together all of those ingredients into a one-bite Thanksgiving dinner.

George Takei has, over the years, lent his gently charismatic presence to many stages — the original Star Trek soundstage, where he played the USS Enterprise's Mr. Sulu, then the social media stage, where he emerged as a leading activist for gay and lesbian rights. Now, Takei is making his Broadway stage debut in Allegiance, a musical inspired by his childhood experience in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A new movie opening next week follows a macho guy in a rough job.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BURNT")

One of the best-reviewed shows on Broadway right now is a revival of a musical that closed there only six years ago. Spring Awakening is based on a play about German teenagers in the 1890s. Part dark morality play, part rock opera, the musical swept the 2007 Tony awards and made TV stars of its two main leads, Leah Michele (of Glee) and Jonathan Groff (of Looking).

Ruth Reichl is in her green-tiled kitchen on the Upper West Side, stirring pungent fish sauce into a wok of sizzling pork. Perhaps you remember her as a highly influential restaurant critic for the LA Times and the New York Times (15 years), or from her best-selling books about food (three, including her memoir Tender At The Bone) or that she ran Gourmet magazine for 10 years.

Six African-American women leap and run across scuffed wooden floors in a drab Broadway dance studio. They're creating complicated patterns, reshaping the air under harsh fluorescent lights. These are the women of Camille A. Brown and Dancers.

Brown, the company's 35-year-old founder, wears bright red athletic shorts and swings Raggedy Ann-colored braids. She spends more than two hours running through the same single minute of the show, over and over, until the dancers nail it.

While driving to his studio in New York's Rockaway Beach neighborhood, artist Christopher Saucedo looks out across Jamaica Bay. He sees a glittering Manhattan and the spire of the new World Trade Center gleaming in a cloudless sky.

"Obviously, where it stands there were once two other very tall towers," the art professor says dryly.

He was called the Sultan of Shock and the Guru of Gore: Wes Craven, who died Sunday, directed dozens of now-classic horror movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and all of the Scream films.

Scream, from 1996, is an expert parody of horror movies, filled with inside jokes — like the girl alone in the house who gets a phone call that's coming from closer than she thinks. Writer Kevin Williamson made it funny. Craven made it scary.

News about the stock market's ups and downs hardly comes as music to the ears — unless you happen to be experimental musician Jace Clayton.

Clayton, who also performs and records as DJ /rupture, is working on a new composition called Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which uses an algorithm to translate the market's movements into a piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are the three Greek goddesses of fate, and Gbadu is a dual-gendered West African fate deity.

Skylar Fein had only lived in New Orleans for a week before Hurricane Katrina nearly tore it apart. He'd moved there to go to medical school, and found himself wandering around a wrecked city. "It's really hard to describe to someone who hadn't seen it what the streets looked like after the storm," he recalls.

Fein is among other New Orleans artists exhibiting work in shows commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2005 storm. One thing he has in common with some of the other artists: They weren't artists before the hurricane hit.

Anniversaries call for exhibitions, and art museums across New Orleans felt compelled to remember Hurricane Katrina as the 10th anniversary of its landfall approaches. But the anniversary shows at some of the city's most high-profile museums seem surprisingly understated, at least to outsiders' eyes. In fact, they barely seem to be about Katrina at all.

It's blazingly hot outside and five summer fellows from the Tulane City Center are standing in a playground at a youth center in New Orleans. The architecture students diplomatically describe the playground's design as "unintentional": There's no grass, trees or even much shade, and it's surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The students, both graduate and undergraduate, are there to make the playground a little nicer.

"Right now, it feels like a prison," says Maggie Hansen, the center's interim director.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A word of caution now. You're about to hear the old nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner" in the creepy voice of one of the world's first talking dolls.

(SOUNDBITE OF TALKING DOLL)

It has been called the "Super Bowl of the ocean."

Shark Week is a ratings bonanza for the Discovery Channel with more than 40 million people tuning in last year. Shark Week kicked off this weekend with the most hours of programming ever in its 28-year history But many scientists think the huge audiences — and the hype — have come at the expense of real science.

A generation of shark scientists cut their teeth on Shark Week.

YouTube star Anna Akana has over 1.2 million subscribers on the video service, but is expanding her content to other video providers.
Anna Akana / YouTube

When it co

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Mary Ellen Mark captured the lives of street kids, prostitutes, circus performers with her camera. She was one of her generation's leading photographers, known for stark but humane portraits. She died Monday at a hospital in New York City. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Here's an old NPR recording of Mary Ellen Mark shooting a model in New York City in 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MARY ELLEN MARK: Lower your chin a little bit. Just lower it. Yeah, that's good.

Let's say you're not a millionaire but you're still interested in buying affordable art from the comfort of your living room. Where do you find something that is between craft-oriented websites like Etsy and high-end auction houses like Sotheby's? Now, new companies — like Paddle8, Ocula, Artline, Saatchi Art, Artsy, Amazon Art — are trying to fill the gap.

Back in 1890, Thomas Edison gave us some of the world's first talking dolls. Today, the glassy-eyed cherubs that are still around stand about 2 feet tall; they have wooden limbs and a metal body; and they sound supercreepy. (If you're looking for a soundtrack to your nightmares, listen to the audio story above.) Edison built and sold about 500 of them back in 1890. Now, new technology has made hearing them possible for the first time in decades.

A tiny independent movie has been picked by one of Hollywood's biggest moguls to promote his latest venture. Robert L. Johnson created BET and now, the Urban Movie Channel — an online channel that's being called the black Netflix.

The first original film it has acquired is a gay interracial romance set in the Deep South. In Blackbird, the main character Randy is in high school. Everyone thinks he's gay, and they're totally fine with it.

Randy, 18, is fervently religious. Even though his best friend is gay, Randy's in denial about his own sexuality.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today at Columbia University in New York City. They honor distinguished works of literature, music, drama and print journalism. A small newspaper in South Carolina with a circulation of less than 100,000 won one of the top prizes, the Public Service Pulitzer. NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

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