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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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 Thu December 18, 2014 3:27 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 Babdook.
Matt Nettheim Causeway Films

Originally published on Thu November 27, 2014 5:12 pm

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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Movies
2:36 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

With Possible Theme Park, 'Hunger Games' May Live Beyond Final Film

Originally published on Fri May 30, 2014 5:07 pm

The movie studio Lionsgate is exploring the possibility of a theme park based on The Hunger Games films and books. To test the idea's viability, the company announced that it will launch a Hunger Games exhibition at museums around the country next summer.

Television
3:30 am
Sat May 24, 2014

'Normal Heart' Teaches New Generation About The Early Years Of AIDS

In the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer's 1985 play, The Normal Heart, Mark Ruffalo (right) plays Ned Weeks, who begins to seek answers after he observes a mysterious disease claiming lives in his gay community. Joe Mantello plays a member of the AIDS service organization, Gay Men's Health Crisis.
Jojo Whilden HBO

Originally published on Sat May 24, 2014 12:09 pm

Why would Ryan Murphy, one of TV's hottest and most prolific producers, decide to adapt a 30-year-old play about the forming of an AIDS service organization for HBO? Because he thought the story of the outbreak of AIDS was being forgotten.

Murphy is the creative mind behind the shows Glee and American Horror Story, and he's remaking The Normal Heart — Larry Kramer's 1985 off-Broadway sensation which revealed the gay community's often fractious response to an epidemic that was then essentially ignored by the government.

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War On Poverty, 50 Years Later
2:05 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

In Pricey Cities, Being A Bohemian Starving Artist Gets Old Fast

Rolando Villazon and Alexia Voulgaridou star as Rodolfo and Mimi in a June 2001 production of Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme. Some real-life artists say the story cuts a little close to home.
Arno Balzarini AP

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 6:18 pm

There are very few professions where poverty is romanticized, but if you're a Franciscan friar or an artist, being poor is seen as somehow ennobling. Josh Shaw, who ran a recent Pacific Opera Project production of La Boheme in Los Angeles, says the opera's famous story of starving artists hits a little close to home.

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Pop Culture
1:38 am
Fri May 9, 2014

Hard 'G' Or Soft, The GIF Takes Its Place As A Modern Art Form

Dramatic chipmunk is one of the examples of the The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture installation at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City.
Courtesy of Museum of the Moving Image

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 1:26 pm

"!!!!"

That was the body of the note from NPR producer Evie Stone, along with a link to an exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image titled The Reaction GIF: Moving Image as Gesture.

Obviously, Evie and I share a certain sensibility. And just as obviously, I had to go to Astoria, Queens, to check out the exhibit — and report this piece.

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Television
2:54 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Lurid Meets Literary In 'Penny Dreadful,' An All-Star Gothic Revue

Showtime's new psychological thriller re-imagines classic Victorian boogeymen like Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and Count Dracula all lurking in London's darkest corners, discussing romantic poetry. Reeve Carney and Eva Green star as Dorian Gray and Vanessa Ives.
Pat Redmond Showtime

Originally published on Thu May 8, 2014 6:19 pm

There's a specific subset of NPR listeners who are also dedicated horror fans. If you fall in that category, the new drama Penny Dreadful -- premiering Sunday on Showtime — may hit all your sweet spots. Imagine an all-star Gothic revue that brings together Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Count Dracula — plus a core team of original characters including a Wild West sharpshooter, an astringent lady spiritualist and an intrepid explorer, in the Sir Richard Burton or David Livingstone mode.

But the show's creator was originally inspired by romantic poetry.

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Monkey See
2:21 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

On Television, More Transgender Characters Come Into Focus

Laverne Cox plays Sophia on Netflix's Orange Is The New Black, one of several current shows exploring the lives of transgender characters.
Paul Schiraldi Netflix

Originally published on Wed April 23, 2014 9:06 pm

Over the past year or so, I've looked at how TV's expanding universe represents gays and lesbians and working women. This piece about transgender representation feels like an important part of the same project.

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News
3:25 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

NSA Coverage Garners Pulitzers For Post And Guardian

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 4:42 pm

Winners of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday. The Washington Post and The Guardian were among the notable winners, commended for together breaking the news of NSA surveillance programs.

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