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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Movies
8:13 am
Sat January 17, 2015

And The Oscar Goes To ... Wait, Who Hasn't Had One In A While?

Robert Duvall (right) was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Judge, which also starred Robert Downey Jr. The nomination left many critics scratching their heads.
Claire Folger AP

Originally published on Sun January 18, 2015 8:59 pm

"The right actors win Oscars, but for the wrong roles," Katharine Hepburn once said.

The Motion Picture Academy has a history of rewarding stars for less-than-celestial performances, and this week's Oscar nomination announcements left a lot of people scratching their heads — over the snubs for Selma, for example, and the nomination of Robert Duvall for best supporting actor in The Judge.

"I think most people hadn't even heard of The Judge before that nomination," says Alyssa Rosenberg, culture columnist for The Washington Post.

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Remembrances
2:18 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

'La Dolce Vita' Star Dies At 83

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 4:20 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Arts & Life
3:54 am
Sat January 10, 2015

Satire In The Muslim World: A Centuries-Long Tradition

Syrian political cartoonist Ali Farzat sits at his desk at a Kuwaiti newspaper on Dec. 14, 2011. Earlier that year, Farzat was badly beaten in retaliation for cartoons that mocked Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Yasser al-Zayyat AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed January 14, 2015 2:42 pm

"Can't they take a joke?" That's the question that came up after the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy and now, again, after the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The suspected killers obviously reflect a tiny minority of extreme religious fanatics, but the question made us wonder: What is the role of satire in the Muslim world?

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All Tech Considered
2:58 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Managing Conversations Online Is A Puzzle Of Picking Platforms

Social media provides voice to movements and helps drive them. Picking the right platforms for these sensitive conversations, though, is a sign of our growing digital sophistication.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed January 7, 2015 4:17 pm

Sports. TV shows. Daily news. All grist for online arguments. (Not to mention culture, politics, race and feminism.)

Now, everyday people can communicate directly with people in news stories, celebrities and activists on social media. But not every conversation works on every platform. We're getting more sophisticated about choosing where we say things online.

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Remembrances
2:54 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Bess Myerson Was An Author, TV Personality, Civil Servant

Originally published on Thu January 8, 2015 4:39 pm

Bess Myerson was crowned Miss America in 1945 and was the only Jewish-American woman to ever hold the title. She went on to have a long career in public affairs, though it was sometimes marked by scandal. She died Dec. 14 at the age of 90.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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Around the Nation
2:42 pm
Wed December 24, 2014

'Crabs For Christmas': A Tuneful Baltimore Tradition (Really!)

Every year, David DeBoy and The Hons (Wendy Savelle, center, and Karen Fitze) perform a live — and often sold-out — show in the upstairs cabaret of a Baltimore restaurant.
Courtesy of David DeBoy

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 3:09 pm

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Remembrances
2:23 pm
Mon December 22, 2014

Charismatic Singer Joe Cocker Dies At 70

Joe Cocker.
Ernesto Ruscio Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 22, 2014 3:54 pm

Joe Cocker died Monday at his home in Crawford, Colo., after what his publicist described as a hard-fought battle with small-cell lung cancer. He was 70.

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Code Switch
3:16 pm
Tue December 9, 2014

The Annie Of Tomorrow Has The Same Hard Knocks, But Different Hair

Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, plays little orphan Annie in the new film adaptation of the 1977 musical.
Barry Wetcher Sony Pictures Entertainment

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 12:09 pm

When you think about the musical Annie, what associations come to mind? Probably the song "Tomorrow," right? And Annie's bright red, curly hair? Red hair comes with its own cultural mythology. In this case, it underscores Annie's plucky, independent spirit.

As it turns out, hair is almost a character in this trailer for the new version of Annie coming out Dec. 19, says Noliwe Rooks, a professor at Cornell University. In just 2:19 minutes, you'll see three or four jokes about or references to hair.

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All Tech Considered
3:30 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Sapiosexual Seeks Same: A New Lexicon Enters Online Dating Mainstream

Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 5:44 pm

This post was updated at 11:10 a.m. ET for clarity.

How would you — or do you — identify on online dating sites? Gay? Straight? Bisexual? Well you're about to have many more options on OkCupid, one of the most popular sites for people seeking love and connection.

OkCupid has about 4 million users, and within the next few weeks the site will give all of them brand-new options for specifying their gender and sexual orientation — options like androgynous, asexual, genderqueer and questioning.

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Movie Interviews
2:23 pm
Thu November 27, 2014

Beware The 'Babadook,' The Monster Of Your Own Making

In an independent, Australian film, a single mother (Essie Davis) and her troubled young son (Noah Wiseman) are terrorized by a mysterious character from a children's book called Mister Babadook.
Matt Nettheim Causeway Films

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 11:10 am

The monsters of repression are what terrorize a single mom and her little boy in The Babadook. The small, independent, Australian, feminist horror movie was one of the buzziest films coming out of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. As of this writing, The Babadook enjoys an impressive 97 percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Code Switch
3:12 pm
Mon November 17, 2014

In 'Straight White Men,' A Play Explores The Reality Of Privilege

Gary Wilmes, James Stanley and Pete Simpson star in Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men.
Julieta Cervantes

Originally published on Tue November 18, 2014 9:40 am

The straight white men of Straight White Men aren't what you might expect. Near the beginning of the new off-Broadway play, two adult brothers play a homemade, family board game, refashioned out of an old Monopoly set. Because the family is liberal and progressive, it's called "Privilege." It makes fun of their own straight-white-male privilege.

"Ah, 'excuses' card!" one of the brothers exclaims. The other reads it aloud. "What I just said wasn't racist/sexist/homophobic because I was joking," he deadpans. "Pay $50 to an LGBT organization."

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Book News & Features
1:05 am
Mon November 10, 2014

If Literature's Great Characters Could Text, They'd Charm Your Pantalets Off

In Mallory Ortberg's modern retelling of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Miss Havisham texts wedding dress photos from a blocked number.
Madeline Gobbo Courtesy of Henry Holt & Company

Originally published on Sun November 30, 2014 3:40 pm

What if the greatest characters in literary history all carried around smartphones and typed out messages to each other? That's the conceit of the new book Texts from Jane Eyre. Author Mallory Ortberg knows it sounds gimmicky, but she loved imagining how Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester might have texted.

"It's just re-imagined dialogue that I think all of these characters would absolutely say in a slightly more familiar context," Ortberg explains.

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Arts & Life
3:32 pm
Sun October 19, 2014

Waterless Worlds The New Hot Dystopia

Originally published on Sun October 19, 2014 5:09 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Television
3:34 am
Thu October 16, 2014

HBO To Start Online Only Streaming Service

Originally published on Thu October 16, 2014 10:32 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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Book News & Features
4:50 am
Fri September 19, 2014

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Awarded MacArthur Fellowship

Originally published on Fri September 19, 2014 5:57 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Business
4:39 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Hachette Authors Take Their Case To Amazon's Board Of Directors

Originally published on Tue September 16, 2014 5:59 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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Movie Interviews
1:31 am
Fri September 12, 2014

Film Triptych 'Eleanor Rigby' Tells Three Sides Of A Breakup Story

James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Him, Her and Them.
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Originally published on Fri September 12, 2014 11:03 am

There are three sides to every story, or so the saying goes — yours, theirs and the truth. That's basically the premise of a new triple feature: three films that show a crumbling relationship from different points of view. Together they're called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Him, Her and Them. (Them comes out in theaters Friday, and Him and Her will be released next month.)

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Author Interviews
5:54 am
Sat August 16, 2014

Lois Lowry Says 'The Giver' Was Inspired By Her Father's Memory Loss

Lois Lowry says she didn't think of The Giver as "futuristic or dystopian or science fiction or fantasy" — it was just a story about a kid making sense of a complicated world.
Matt McKee Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 8:09 am

Just for a second, imagine a world without war, conflict or grief. Refreshing, right? But it's also a world without memory, at least in the premise of Lois Lowry's 1993 novel The Giver. The movie adaptation opened this week and stars Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges.

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Movies
2:05 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

As Film Stocks Dwindle, Movie-Makers Weigh What May Soon Be Lost

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 4:57 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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The Salt
9:28 am
Fri August 8, 2014

What Are Those Parabens Doing In My Tortilla?

A package of corn tortillas listing propylparaben as an ingredient.
Meredith Rizzo NPR

Originally published on Fri August 8, 2014 4:25 pm

When I invited people over for brunch not long ago, the last thing I expected was a wander into the murky world of food preservatives. It started off so simply — with enchiladas, in fact. Enchiladas are my go-to brunch dish, mostly because a little store near me stocks incredible tortillas from a local factory in Maryland called Moctec.

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Code Switch
5:37 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

'Boondocks' Creator Asks, 'What Would Black Jesus Do?'

Black Jesus is the latest from Aaron McGruder, who created the politically charged comic strip and animated series The Boondocks.
Adult Swim

Originally published on Thu August 28, 2014 4:43 pm

Black Jesus, a new show premiering Thursday on Adult Swim, is about, well, a black Jesus. Set in contemporary south Los Angeles, it presents a Jesus roaming around a neighborhood filled with liquor stores, mini-marts and people praying for help.

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Crime In The City
1:23 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Mystery Writer Evokes The Sights, Sound And Grime Of 1970s New York

The Empire State Building shines while Greenwich Village remains dark during the 1977 New York City blackout.
Carlos Rene Perez AP

Originally published on Thu August 7, 2014 7:08 am

Crime fiction writer Lawrence Block lives in New York's West Village, in a stately art deco building overlooking Abingdon Square. He bought an apartment there decades before actress Jennifer Aniston did. (She sold hers shortly thereafter.) Block is 76, silver-haired and keen-eyed; and in his pastel shirt and khakis, he looks decidedly more Hamptons than downtown.

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Movies
6:34 am
Sat July 26, 2014

Silent Film Fans Make Some Noise To Help ID Forgotten Treasures

The Library of Congress started their Mostly Lost workshop to help identify films from its archives. The event also includes presentations from early film experts like Serge Bromberg, who this year recreated the stage performance that was part of the 1914 animated film Gertie the Dinosaur.
Bill Dragga Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Originally published on Sat July 26, 2014 12:06 pm

Deep in the archives of the Library of Congress' Culpeper, Va., film preservation center lie thousands of movies in cool, climate-controlled vaults. Hundreds are a century old or older, and unidentified. Their titles have been lost over the years and the library knows little about them, so it started inviting fans of early film to a yearly event called Mostly Lost to help figure out what they are.

And you know what? Those fans are rowdy.

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The Salt
2:58 pm
Mon July 21, 2014

For These Vegans, Masculinity Means Protecting The Planet

Mixed martial arts fighter Cornell Ward (from left), chef Daniel Strong, triathlete Dominic Thompson, lifestyle blogger Joshua Katcher and competitive bodybuilder Giacomo Marchese at a vegan barbecue in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Courtesy of James Koroni

Originally published on Fri August 1, 2014 10:36 am

Real men eat meat. They kill it and then they grill it.

That's the stereotype, or cliche, that's about as old as time.

At a recent barbecue in Brooklyn, N.Y., a half-dozen guys who resist that particular cultural stereotype gathered together. Many of them are muscled semi-professional athletes, including triathlete Dominic Thompson, competitive bodybuilder Giacomo Marchese and mixed martial arts fighter Cornell Ward.

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Author Interviews
1:19 am
Mon July 7, 2014

Rainbow Rowell Does Romance With A Subversive (Read: Realistic) Twist

Rainbow Rowell lives in Nebraska with her husband and two sons.
Augusten Burroughs St. Martin's Press

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 11:14 am

Rainbow Rowell writes conventional fiction unconventionally. They're romances, but there's no meeting-cute, or ripping bodices — the people in them seem real.

Rowell got a lot of attention last year for her best-selling young adult romance, Eleanor & Park, about a half-white, half-Korean boy who falls in love with an overweight white girl. Her newest novel, and her second for adults, is called Landline.

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Book Your Trip
3:05 pm
Sun June 29, 2014

In 'Snowpiercer,' A Never-Ending Train Ride And A Society Badly Off Track

In Snowpiercer, Curtis (Chris Evans) and Yona (Ah-sung Ko) are trying to fight their way to the front of a train that is cruelly class segregated. "[It's] similar to Occupy Wall Street in terms of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent," says South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. "That's something that happens in other countries and also in Korea."
Radius TWC

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 12:05 pm

The world has frozen over in the movie Snowpiercer. Set after a climate change disaster, all the action happens aboard a train that has to keep circling the globe for its passengers to stay alive.

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Television
1:20 am
Fri June 27, 2014

Cory Still ♡s Topanga As A New Generation 'Meets World'

In Girl Meets World, Topanga (Danielle Fishel) and Cory (Ben Savage) have two kids — Riley and Auggie — and Cory teaches history at his daughter's middle school.
Ron Tom Disney Channel

Originally published on Sat June 28, 2014 1:08 am

Among that enormous demographic of people born after 1981, you'll find a major generational touchstone: the TV show Boy Meets World.

Nick Gray, 24, says, "Everybody that I know that is our age --"

"-- watched it," interrupts his girlfriend, 21-year-old Elizabeth Spivey, "and loved it!"

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Television
6:00 am
Sun June 22, 2014

Why TV Drama Is So Obsessed With Pandemics

Originally published on Sun June 22, 2014 10:56 am

Transcript

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And now for a warning. Television is in the grip of a terrifying pandemic. Or maybe an obsession with pandemics is a better way to put it. This year has seen a feverish spike in dramas where the antagonist is a deadly virus. These shows include "Helix" on Sy-fy, "The Strain" on FX and "The Last Ship," which starts Sunday on TNT. NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered why the enthusiasm for these programs is so infectious.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: You can probably trace this outbreak to one of the most popular shows of the past few years.

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Monkey See
3:47 pm
Fri June 6, 2014

'I Kinda Stole The Show': Laverne Cox And The Path To Prestige Television

Laverne Cox of Netflix's Orange is the New Black.
Netflix

Originally published on Fri June 6, 2014 5:29 pm

"My femininity was seen as a problem that needed to be solved."

Laverne Cox is talking about her childhood in Mobile, Ala. She remembers being routinely chased and beaten by classmates after school. Cox was born biologically male, and her gender identity was confusing and threatening not just to other children but to the grown-ups in her life as well. Her third-grade teacher warned her mother, "Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if we don't get him into therapy right away."

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Author Interviews
1:30 am
Thu June 5, 2014

John Green's 'Stars' Shines Bright On The Silver Screen

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort play the cancer-stricken lovers in The Fault in Our Stars.
Temple Hill Entertainment

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 10:40 am

It's a writer's fantasy. You author a book. It hits the young adult jackpot. It sells 10 million copies. Hollywood actors fight for parts in the movie.

Welcome to John Green's reality. Not too long ago, in New York City, he introduced a screening of the film based on his novel, The Fault in Our Stars, to an audience of hundreds of teenagers ecstatically screaming his name. They cried copiously throughout the film, which follows a romance between two teenagers with cancer.

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