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.

Picture an angry little ball, covered in spikes, perhaps equipped with arms and legs, and definitely an evil grin. That's how cartoonists and animators are anthropomorphizing Covid-19. Which seems to make the coronavirus unique in our long history of anthropomorphizing diseases.

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In a video released by the Pritzker Architecture Prize, commonly seen as the Nobel of the architecture world, the winners look directly into the camera and introduce themselves in soft Irish accents.

The technical wonder of a movie, 1917, could win up to 10 Oscars on Sunday. Filmed to look like a single shot, its view is glued upon two soldiers racing behind enemy lines during the ravages of World War I. This is the second time in recent years that a one-shot film swept up Oscar nominations.

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There's this buzzy new reality TV show on Netflix called "The Circle." The hook is that the characters live in total isolation from each other. They only communicate through social media like IMs and group texts.

Bryan Stevenson's bestselling book Just Mercy may not seem like the most obvious candidate for a splashy Hollywood movie adaptation. It's about the founding of a not-for-profit advocacy organization that helps low-income people who were denied fair trials. And the plot follows the grueling legal work necessary to appeal the sentences of convicted murderers on Alabama's death row, not all of whom are wrongly accused.

Looking At Reality TV

Dec 27, 2019

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This week, we have been looking at stories that got lost in the crazed news cycle of 2019. Some of them, of course, were arts stories, and NPR arts correspondent Neda Ulaby is here to tell us about an unexpected and welcome trend on television. Neda, thanks for coming in.

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Singer Marie Fredriksson, who co-founded the hitmaking Swedish pop group Roxette, died yesterday in Sweden. She was 61 years old.

Before she became one of the most recognizable voices of her era, Fredricksson grew up in a tiny village, where her mom was a factory worker and her dad a postman. There wasn't any day care, so he'd take her along while delivering mail and sing to her — the experience was formative.

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Walters Sports Bar is a gleaming new pub just blocks from the largest stadium in Washington, D.C. The decor is industrial chic — exposed ducts and poured concrete floors — and it's spacious enough to accommodate the enormous throngs of elated fans who crowded in after the Washington Nationals' recent World Series win.

On a recent night, the bar was quieter. Still, customer after customer strode up to a stainless steel wall lined with beer taps to insert a card, touch a screen and pour a glass of self-serve beer.

No waitstaff. No waiting.

When is it wrong to show cigarette smoking on television, but OK to depict people smoking cannabis products, particularly in programming popular among young teenagers?

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The funny, freckled face of Alfred E. Neuman is more or less retiring.

One of the last widely circulated print satirical magazines in America will leave newsstands after this year, according to sources at DC Comics, which publishes MAD magazine.

While the Harvard Lampoon remains in business, The Onion hasn't been in print since 2013. The once-influential Spy was a casualty of the 1990s.

Franco Zeffirelli once said that when the curtain comes up "you have to give the audience a big thing to look at."

The Italian filmmaker and opera director gave audiences plenty to look at — in his lavishly styled operas and his biblical and Shakespearean film adaptations.

Zeffirelli died Saturday in Rome after a long illness. His death was announced on the Foundation of Franco Zeffirelli website. He was 96.

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Screenwriter William Goldman died last night at the age of 87. He's responsible for the scripts for more than 30 movies, including classics like "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" and "The Princess Bride." NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

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Leave it to California to combine high-end cuisine with the kind of ingredients that might actually get you high. It's an increasingly lucrative niche for chefs in San Francisco and Los Angeles — cities already well known for trendy food culture.

Chefs and entrepreneurs making cannabis-infused foie gras and "stoner souffles" have been featured on not one but two series devoted to gourmet ganja: the Netflix competition program, Cooking On High, and the Viceland show Bong Appetit.

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The perfect home for a perfect television family is for sale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BRADY BUNCH THEME SONG")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Here's the story of a lovely lady...

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When Clarence Fountain was only 8 years old, his family left him at an Alabama boarding school for the blind. He eventually went on to help create The Blind Boys of Alabama.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO CLOSE TO HEAVEN")

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When Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in 1951, her cells were harvested without her knowledge. They became crucial to scientific research and her story became a best-seller. Since then, Lacks has become one of the most powerful symbols for informed consent in the history of science.

On Monday, when the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., honored Lacks by installing a painting of her just inside one of its main entrances, three of Lacks' grandchildren were there.

When Trenton Doyle Hancock was 10 years old, he made up a superhero: Torpedo Boy. The character has become the center of a complicated cosmos Hancock has developed obsessively for more than 30 years. There are drawings, paintings, sculptures — and now, a plush stuffed doll.

"Well, he looks like me," Hancock says. "He's a black guy. His face is basically my face."

Lynn Smith was picking out frozen vegetables in a Los Angeles grocery store when she was asked if she bought much of her food in that aisle.

"No I don't, as a matter of fact," Smith responded, slightly perplexed.

Every weekday for more than three decades, his baritone steadied our mornings. Even in moments of chaos and crisis, Carl Kasell brought unflappable authority to the news. But behind that hid a lively sense of humor, revealed to listeners late in his career, when he became the beloved judge and official scorekeeper for Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! NPR's news quiz show.

Kasell died Tuesday from complications from Alzheimer's disease in Potomac, Md. He was 84.

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At some point, you or a woman you know has likely looked through a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. The book was revolutionary when it was first published in the early 1970s. It taught women about their own anatomy and sexuality at a time when talking frankly about sex was considered — well, unladylike.

Bal Krishna is the name sometimes given to the young Hindu god Krishna. Balkrishna Doshi was named for him, when he was born in 1927.

"They wanted me to remain young," the 90-year-old architect explains, as he bursts into peals of laughter.

Doshi is the newest winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, known as the Nobel for architects.

Rachel Morrison is the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar in cinematography.

"I can't believe I am the first," she says. "It's really kind of crazy!"

It was her lensing on Mudbound that earned her this recognition, but Morrison also served as director of photography for the massive blockbuster Black Panther. Being a DP means you're in charge of all the cameras, everyone who operates them, the electricity on set and the look of the entire film.

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