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

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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.

For some, photography is a vocation. For Catherine Opie, it's also a social liability.

"Staring at people's faces is a problem with me," the artist admits. "I mean, my wife is constantly saying, 'You're staring at that person.' And I'm just like, 'I'm really sorry. I'm making a picture.' And I do like to stare."

"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.

It's not too hard to make the case that Christmas stories can be scary. Toys springing to life. That large man sneaking into your home at midnight after watching you all year. No wonder there's an entire genre of Christmas-themed horror movies. And one of them happened to be one of last weekend's top-grossing films.

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.

It sounds like a fairy tale: Five beautiful sisters with long flowing hair are locked up together and forced, one by one, into marriage. But it's not a fairy tale — it's the story of a new movie called Mustang set in a contemporary, rural Turkish village.

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.

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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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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

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.

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