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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Legendary music producer Phil Spector — who was convicted in 2009 of murdering actress Lana Clarkson — died Saturday at age 81. His death was announced Sunday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which said that he had died of natural causes. His official cause of death is yet to be determined.

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Imagine spending most of your life on one creative project.

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Film director Michael Apted died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, according to his agent, Roy Ashton. No details of his death were given. At 79, Apted left behind a body of work ranging from biopics to a James Bond movie to a celebrated documentary series that established Apted as a pioneering longitudinal filmmaker.

Apted's audience literally grew up with him. In 1963, Apted was a 22-year-old Cambridge law student from southeast England who aspired to be a filmmaker. He found a job as a researcher for a TV documentary called Seven Up!

What a year it was for Anglo-American literature and the arts!

1925 was the year of heralded novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, seminal works by Sinclair Lewis, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley ... and a banner year for musicians, too. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, among hundreds of others, made important recordings. And 1925 marked the release of canonical movies from silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Christmas romantic comedies are known for cozy sweaters, roaring fireplaces, meaningful glances over cups of hot chocolate and stars who, until recently, looked like a bunch of models from a Land's End catalog circa 1985.

The Library of Congress tries to raise awareness of film conservation every year by adding 25 movies to the National Film Registry to preserve for posterity.

Who wants to play with toys that poop?

Seven year old Jack Reynolds does. The second grader in Denver, Colo., enthusiastically showed off his collection via video to a reporter. It includes an adorable pooping stuffed animal, a bathtub game called Fishin' For Floaters and fuzzy brown poop emoji bed slippers. When asked why he likes such toys, Jack was unequivocal.

"Because poop is stinky!" he announced. "Gross! Smooshy!"

Before the pandemic trapped Stacey Mei Yan Fong in her Brooklyn kitchen, the 32-year-old handbag designer was baking her way across America, one pie at a time.

The Qualla Boundary is not technically a reservation, but everyone around here calls it one. The ancestral home of the Cherokee people sprawls across western North Carolina, a mountainous region thick with yellow birch and red maple forests, Dollar Generals, and ancient ceremonial mounds dating back to at least 1000 BCE. It's also home to first-time author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle.

"My Cherokee ancestors have been here, we would say, since the beginning of time," Clapsaddle says. "Other people would say over ten thousand years."

You should be counting your Thanksgiving blessings if you have someone like Jasmine Surti in your immediate family or circle. She's a mother, a daughter, a friend to many in Lawrenceville, N.J. And she's the sort of super-planner who joyfully takes on the daunting task of organizing a pandemic Thanksgiving.

"Well, I guess I like to make spreadsheets and surveys and things," Surti acknowledges with sheepish pride. "Basically, problem solving, you could say."

Who could've predicted chess sets might become as difficult to find as toilet paper during the early weeks of the pandemic? Not Gerrick Johnson. The toy analyst with BMO Capital Markets found himself stymied while searching for a particular Cardinal chess set a few weeks ago.

"It was sold out everywhere I went," he says.

Sales of chess sets have skyrocketed, says Mary Higbe, director of marketing at Goliath Games. The company sells six different kinds of chess sets, including those familiar red-boxed Pressman sets you've probably seen in the toy aisle at Walmart.

The chef and restaurant owner who helped change the way Americans think about Chinese food has died. Cecilia Chiang was twice a refugee before she opened the influential San Francisco restaurant The Mandarin and taught Chinese cooking to Julia Child and James Beard. Chiang died Wednesday in San Francisco. She was 100 years old.

One of America's most renowned Modernist painters, Jacob Lawrence, is best known for his powerfully empathic The Migration Series, which chronicled the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to industrial cities.

When I met him earlier this year, James "Yaya" Hough was surrounded by white buckets of blue and orange paint, working in the downtown Philadelphia studio that came — before coronavirus — along with the first-ever artist residency at the Philadelphia District Attorney's office.

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The popular crowdsourcing site GoFundMe is a go-to place to appeal for help with rent, medicine, child care and favorite causes. Along with donations, supporters leave comments ranging from "Can't wait for you to have the glasses you need!" to "Best of everything big guy," to simply "Get well soon!"

Another hot summer, another heated controversy at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

For an exhibition entitled "Collective Actions: Artist Interventions In A Time of Change," the vaunted New York museum managed to alienate a group of artists it had hoped to celebrate. Several of them charged the museum with propagating systemic racism by not properly compensating BIPOC artists for their work, nor asking permission for the work to be displayed.

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Acclaimed singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has died at the age of 38. He's the son of alt-country star Steve Earle who earned critical acclaim of his own and multiple awards despite struggles with addiction. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

On Tuesday, President Trump officially pardoned leading suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who died in 1906. He noted she was arrested in 1872 for voting before it was legal for women to do so.

"She was never pardoned!" he exclaimed in a White House ceremony. "Did you know that she was never pardoned? What took so long?"

The timing feels terribly apt.

Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression turned 50 this year. A bestseller in 1970, the book was one of nearly two dozen written by the cheerfully empathetic historian and journalist Studs Terkel.

Legendary newspaperman and author Pete Hamill has died at the age of 85 in New York City, his hometown.

"He fell on Saturday and died this morning of heart and kidney failure," his longtime literary agent Esther Newberg told NPR in an email, adding, "One of a kind."

It's no exaggeration to say this year feels like a horror movie. And now, a few filmmakers are making it official.

Museums seem like immortal places, with their august countenances and treasured holdings. Even in our TikTok era of diminishing attention spans, they draw more than 850 million visitors a year in the U.S., according to the American Alliance of Museums.

Updated at 8:39 p.m. ET Tuesday

The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the death of actor Naya Rivera to be an accidental drowning. She had disappeared on July 8 while boating with her 4-year-old son, and her body was recovered from a Southern California lake on Monday.

Best known for her starring role on the Fox show Glee, Rivera was 33 years old.

Mary Maxon was out raking hay on her tractor yesterday morning when a beep on her phone alerted her to the good news. The arts organization she runs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota had just been awarded a $50,000 grant through the CARES Act.

It's hard enough for any museum trying to reopen right now, but children's museums face especially tough challenges. (Especially those with names like Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum, the Hands On! Discovery Center in Gray, Tenn., and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum in Michigan.)

Editor's note: This story contains language that may be offensive.

Larry Kramer was one of the first activists against AIDS, back when the disease didn't even have a name. In the early 1980s, Kramer witnessed hundreds, then thousands of gay men die before the government took action to stop the spread of HIV. He became a high-profile, high-volume, one-man crusade against the disease.

Kramer died Wednesday morning of pneumonia in Manhattan, Will Schwalbe, his friend and literary executor, told NPR. He was 84.

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Here's something we have in common with Americans who lived during the Great Depression - not just horrifically high unemployment rates but bitter ideological divides.

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