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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Brittney Griner is 23 years old, 6 feet 8 inches tall and one of the best female basketball players in the world. She was the WNBA top draft pick last year, and in college she set records for the most blocked shots in a season and the most career blocks in history — for male and female players. She's so good that the owner of a men's team — the Dallas Mavericks — has said he'd recruit her.

Now, Griner is also an author. She's co-written a new memoir, In My Skin, in which she describes being bullied and taunted as a kid for her height and athleticism.

Frankie Knuckles, a legend in the world of dance music and one of the inventors of house music, a steady, beat-driven style played in nightclubs all over the world, died unexpectedly at his Chicago home on Monday. He was 59.

There's a flood of biblical proportions this year in Hollywood: Noah, starring Russell Crowe, floats into theaters Thursday. It follows Son of God, another Bible-based movie released by 20th Century Fox. And later in 2014, we'll see Exodus, a 3-D epic based on the story of Moses from director Ridley Scott.

Why so many Bible movies in 2014? "It just has to be that God is moving. There's no other explanation for it," says Son of God producer Mark Burnett.

"I'm sorry you have to see my pancake face."

Those are among Shailene Woodley's first words as she opens the door to a suite in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. She's got a publicists' luncheon later in the day — otherwise, she explains, under absolutely no condition would she have worn makeup for an interview.

When Rob Thomas created Veronica Mars, his show about a sharp-elbowed girl detective, he had an ulterior motive: He wanted to kill off the reigning queen of teenaged sleuths — one who's been around for more than 80 years.

"Nancy Drew," Thomas says, his soft-spoken affect barely betrayed by a trace of a snarl. "Like, I feel like she had her run."

Hundreds of visual-effects artists are planning to picket the Academy Awards on Sunday for the second year in a row. They're hoping to bring attention to what's been happening in their industry.

The field is losing jobs and relocating to countries with bigger subsidies for employers. It's the result of a technical revolution that's changed the profession since it kicked off in the 70s with Star Wars creator George Lucas' visual-effects company, Industrial Light and Magic.

A lot of people believe 12 Years A Slave is the best film yet made about slavery in the United States. That doesn't make it easy to watch.

It also wasn't easy to edit.

"Editing is like a massive, 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle," says director Steve McQueen. He's just arrived from Europe and is relaxing in a suite in a swanky West Hollywood hotel with the film's editor, Joe Walker.

Let's be clear: Olympians handle the physical challenges of childbirth differently than most of the rest of us.

Aretha Thurmond is a discus thrower who'd already competed in two Olympics when she went to the hospital in labor.

"So I get there and they're like, 'Yeah, whatever, you're 4 centimeters dilated. Go walk around the hospital and come back,' " she says.

Thurmond's hospital was part of a university, so she headed straight for its track, where she power-walked for the next two hours. Then the school's discus throwers came out.

How do you measure love?

OK, it's a huge question. And maybe not one generally applied to television. But the metrics of success determine whether a television show lives or dies. (If this is the sort of topic that seems frivolous, consider the billions of dollars TV and other copyright industries contribute to the U.S. economy. The stakes start feeling higher.)

One of America's most important — and controversial — literary figures, Amiri Baraka, died on Thursday from complications after surgery following a long illness, according to his oldest son. Baraka was 79.

Baraka co-founded the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. His literary legacy is as complicated as the times he lived through, from his childhood — where he recalled not being allowed to enter a segregated library — to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. His poem about that attack, "Somebody Blew Up America," quickly became infamous.

One of the most popular channels on YouTube is aimed toward people who play video games. It's got tons of content — thousands of game reviews, how-to videos of people gaming away enthusiastically, even little homemade movies that people have made using video-game software.

That last format is a user-generated phenomenon called machinima — "little m" machinima. "Big M" Machinima is a company, and it wants to be a new media empire. It's the entity behind that YouTube channel.

Way back in March, actor Will Ferrell took the stage on Conan O'Brien's talk show in full character as Ron Burgundy, the '70s-vintage, dopily misogynistic hero of the 2004 movie Anchorman. Lapels flaring, jazz flute in hand, he announced that the world would have to wait another nine months for the sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

If you've seen the 2012 science fiction movie Looper, you might remember a telling exchange when a time-traveling hitman (Bruce Willis) sits down with a young version of himself (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and offers some advice.

"You should go to China," Willis says firmly.

Gordon-Levitt resists: "I'm going to France."



It was a wham, boom, pow kind of an announcement from Netflix. They're making four original series based on Marvel Comics.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports on why Netflix is leaping into the business of capes, masks and superpowers.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Netflix has gotten a reputation for decidedly grown-up original series, "Orange Is The New Black," "House of Cards" and the revival of "Arrested Development."


Blockbuster is going to shut all of its company-owned stores. Some franchise stores will stay open. At its peak, the video rental chain had about 9,000 stores.

One of rock's most beloved and contrarian figures has died. Lou Reed epitomized New York City's artistic underbelly in the 1970s, with his songs about hookers and junkies. He was 71.



OK, three brand-new cable channels all share the same problem. How do you persuade 20-somethings to look up from their phones long enough to gaze at an old-fashioned, regular TV? In Los Angeles, NPR's Neda Ulaby visited one of the channels that's trying to do that.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: This could be the set of any cable news show about to go live.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Three minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: As character) We've got three minutes to air.

One of the strongest new sitcoms on TV this season has the worst name, but its title, Trophy Wife, was intended to be ironic. The show's creators, Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern, are self-professed feminists who wanted to take on a type generally scorned in popular culture.

The show's eponymous character, Kate, is a reformed party girl trying to find her place in a family that includes a much older husband, Pete, his two ex-wives and three kids. When Kate inadvertently breaks Pete's nose, the situation is expertly handled by ex No. 1, an intimidating surgeon.

Sure, Bob Newhart may have won his first Emmy for guest-starring as Professor Proton on the hugely popular show The Big Bang Theory, about four young scientists at Caltech. But behind the scenes is a real-life professor, David Saltzberg of UCLA.

Saltzberg studies high-energy particle physics and high-energy neutrino astronomy, using radio-detection techniques when he's not working as The Big Bang Theory's science consultant.



Believe it or not, there was a time when you had to watch a television program when it actually aired. Then came VCRs, which had certain drawbacks.


Who taped over my episode of "The Cosby Show"?