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 radio and online stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions, as well as artistic adventurousness— and awesomeness.

Over the last few years, Ulaby has strengthened NPR's television coverage both in terms of programming and industry coverage and profiled breakout artists such as Ellen Page and Skylar Grey and behind-the-scenes tastemakers ranging from super producer Timbaland to James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features. Her stories have included a series on women record producers, an investigation into exhibitions of plastinated human bodies, and a look at the legacy of gay activist Harvey Milk. Her profiles have brought listeners into the worlds of such performers as Tyler Perry, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Ruffalo, and Courtney Love.

Ulaby has earned multiple fellowships at the Getty Arts Journalism Program at USC Annenberg as well as a fellowship at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism to study youth culture. In addition, Ulaby's weekly podcast of NPR's best arts stories. Culturetopia, won a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation.

Joining NPR in 2000, Ulaby was recruited through NPR's Next Generation Radio, and landed a temporary position on the cultural desk as an editorial assistant. She started reporting regularly, augmenting her work with arts coverage for D.C.'s Washington City Paper.

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. Her film reviews and academic articles have been published across the country and internationally. For a time, she edited fiction for The Chicago Review and served on the editing staff of the leading academic journal Critical Inquiry. Ulaby taught classes in the humanities at the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and at high schools serving at-risk students.

A former doctoral student in English literature, Ulaby worked as an intern for the features desk of the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. She was born in Amman, Jordan, and grew up in the idyllic Midwestern college towns of Lawrence, Kansas and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Artist Ragnar Kjartansson stands surrounded by women in gold strapless gowns. One by one, the women climb onto a slowly rotating pedestal to practice their performance: strumming an E minor chord on a golden guitar for two and a half hours. The group is rehearsing in a cavernous gallery at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The piece, Woman in E, is a new-ish work by Kjartansson, one of the art world's biggest stars.

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When Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature this morning, he joined a lineage that includes Harold Pinter, Thomas Mann and Toni Morrison. NPR's Neda Ulaby looks at how Dylan fits into this group.

It's well-known that Dear Leader was crazy about movies. What's less known — at least in the West — is that infamous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was so crazy about them that he kidnapped a South Korean actress and a movie director in 1978 and forced them to work for him for years. That story is the subject of a new documentary called The Lovers and the Despot.

When's the last time you ordered turtle when you went out to eat?

Most of us would probably turn it down in an instant if we saw it on a menu. But terrapin was a completely normal entree for diners at the finest restaurants of a century ago. America's changing tastes — and what they have to say about our culture — are explored in a new nonfiction book, Ten Restaurants That Changed America.

11:00 a.m. is bilingual story hour at the Aguilar branch of the New York Public Library. Dozens of kids — mostly children of immigrants from China, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — have settled down to hear Perez y Martina, a story based on a Puerto Rican folktale.

There's an insatiable appetite, it seems, for books about young people killing each other in made-up militarized societies. And according to author Sabaa Tahir — whose new book, A Torch Against the Night, continues that trend — if you look at today's headlines, the genre's popularity makes sense: After all, the news is where she found her inspiration.

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It's a sweltering night in July and Los Angeles' Underground Museum is packed. "It's crowded and hot, but it feels really good," says vistor Jazzi McGilbert. Like much of the crowd, McGilbert is young, creative and African-American. She drove across town to this unassuming, bunkerlike storefront for an event that combines art and activism. The museum is one of her favorite spots in Los Angeles. "I like what it stands for," McGilbert says. "... And the art is incredible."

Happily, the creators behind the 1980s comic series Suicide Squad have been getting a fair amount of attention with the release of the splashy new movie it has inspired. Writer John Ostrander created the comic (with artist Luke McDonnell) and Ostrander's late wife, Kimberly Yale, co-wrote it for much of its run. But in all the coverage of the film, Yale has been completely overlooked.

Producer Lawrence Grey loves horror movies. But he still shivers, remembering a 2 1/2 minute video that starts on a rainy Scandinavian night. A ordinary woman is getting ready for bed in her small apartment. She switches off the hall light and, in the darkness at the other end of the hall, she sees a shadow. A silhouette. Something almost human. But not quite.

Born This Way is a reality show — not too different from The Real World, the groundbreaking show that helped define the genre and aired for more than 30 seasons on MTV. Both feature a cast of diverse young adults navigating the world around them. Both came from reality TV pioneer Jonathan Murray (who co-created The Real World with Mary-Ellis Bunim). The big difference: All the stars of Born This Way have Down syndrome.

In four months, on the first Friday after the elections in November, Renee Montagne will step away from the host chair on Morning Edition after 12 years.

That's 12 years of arriving at work every weekday at midnight. Montagne works out of the NPR West studio in Culver City, Calif., on the outskirts of Los Angeles. That means at 2 a.m. PT, she's sounding bright and fully caffeinated for Morning Edition's earliest East Coast broadcasts. Her punishing hours were a point of pride — but only to a point.

Many chefs think of themselves as artists in the kitchen. Craig Thornton has taken it to another level: For the past five months, he's been serving up multi-course meals as part of a room-size installation at the prestigious Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

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There are six giant superhero movies out this year: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Doctor Strange, Deadpool and Suicide Squad.

Now guess how many are directed by women.

If you guessed zero, you're correct!

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Lupita Nyong'o lives in a sunny apartment high above the East River in Brooklyn. Black-and-white photos of African wildlife hang on orange accent walls, near a collection of pretty blue pottery. The actress just earned rave reviews for her Broadway debut, in the play Eclipsed. She's also featured in the biggest movie in theaters now, The Jungle Book. It's possible you heard about her last little film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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Transcript

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Tens of millions of Americans have been tuning in to March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, what a save. And Lindsey with the finish.

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Transcript

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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")

Visiting the set of a historical drama can be a surreal experience, and Underground was no exception.

As the Louisiana sun beat down on an actual historical plantation near Baton Rouge last July, director Kate Woods oversaw a scene where an adorable small boy — actor Maceo Smedley — is picking cotton.

"Could someone go and put more blood on his hands?" she shouted.

This story was inspired by a question at an insanely hard Oscars trivia night in Los Angeles last year: Which family has the most Oscar nominations?

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

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