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.

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


The title character of The Assassin is a mysterious, silent woman draped in black, calm and implacable — even while slitting an unlucky warlord's throat.

The film, set in 9th-century China, is the latest from one of the great directors of world cinema, a man who just came to the U.S. for the first time in 20 years: Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Earlier this year, his film won the top directing prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

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).

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The Nobel Prize for literature usually goes to someone who writes literature. But this morning, the world's most prestigious award in letters went to a journalist from Belarus. NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us about Svetlana Alexievich.

Patti Smith has a new memoir out. And the reviews are really good.

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.

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America's favorite fictional cub reporter has died.


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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.

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.

George is 10, loves to read and has a best friend named Kelly. Everyone thinks George is a boy, but she doesn't feel like one.

To say I was not excited about this assignment would be an understatement. An NPR piece about vegetable broth? It seems like a parody — like an NPR piece about Birkenstocks or lattes or, um, knitting. But then Bren Herrera threw open the door to her house in suburban Virginia, and suddenly a radio story seemed possible.

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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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.


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Superheroes, by definition, are extraordinary individuals - not exactly the type to blend in with a crowd - but what about Ant-Man?