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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Monkey See
3:22 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

When TV Shows Go To College, They Fail To Make The Grade

Many lead characters in Fox's Glee will head to college this season. But will higher education lead to lower ratings?
Fox

Originally published on Fri September 14, 2012 10:57 am

I was packing up my recording equipment after interviewing TV executive Susanne Daniels — for a different story — when she said, casually, "Have you ever noticed how there's never been a really great TV show about college?"

I looked at her. Then I started unpacking my equipment again. She had just offered me a story.

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Fine Art
3:47 am
Sun September 9, 2012

Are All Young Artists 'Post-9/11' Artists?

Knitting Is for Pus**** is a work by crochet sculptor Olek. He has created an entire apartment blanketed in brightly colored, crocheted camouflage.
Olek Courtesy Jonathan LeVine Gallery, New York, N.Y.

Originally published on Mon September 10, 2012 1:52 am

When museum curator Nicholas Bell was putting together the show Craft Futures: 40 Under 40 at the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery, he realized the artists had something in common besides their under-40 status. Because of their youth, he felt that each of them could be classified as "post 9/11" artists.

"Their worldview is defined by the angst, the unease, the trepidation of the difficulties of the 21st century," he says.

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Television
2:49 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

TV Writers Script Safe Sex 'Product Placement'

The FOX show Raising Hope follows young father Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff) who conceived his daughter Hope (Baylie/Rylie Cruget) in a one-night stand. The show has worked with The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to write messages about safe sex into the script.
Greg Gayne 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co.

Originally published on Thu September 6, 2012 5:09 pm

For an egregious example of a silly product placement, look no further than the CW show The Vampire Diaries, where a character actually says "I Bing'd it" of a search online. But believe it or not, product placement can actually be serious and socially conscious.

Take the Fox comedy Raising Hope. Earlier this year, the show's main character, who'd been a teen mom, caught a high school girl in bed with her boyfriend. "I'm gonna show you where this can lead to!" she screeched. "I'm your ghost of teen pregnancy future!"

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Monkey See
6:51 am
Fri August 31, 2012

Hey, I Know That One: How SongPop Got Millions Of Players Naming That Tune

SongPop

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 9:16 am

Today, four million people all over the world will log on to Facebook — or take out their phones — and play SongPop. This summer, it's become the fastest growing social game on Facebook, taking a run at old standards such as Farmville and Words with Friends.

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Monkey See
6:37 am
Tue August 28, 2012

YouTube Trends: Politics And Pop, Yes, But Education And Science, Too

Originally published on Tue August 28, 2012 7:32 am

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Monkey See
2:36 pm
Mon August 27, 2012

'2016: Obama's America' Shows Up Strong When Most Box Office Is Weak

A promotional poster is seen at the Rave Fairfax Corner movie theater in Fairfax, Virginia, announcing the new movie "2016: Obama's America" that opened in theaters across the US, August 24, 2012.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 28, 2012 1:53 pm

The movie 2016: Obama's America just did something that's hard for any political documentary to accomplish: it took seventh place on the list of this weekend's highest grossing movies. Usually, when any documentary pulls in more than five million dollars, it's about, say, Katy Perry. But 2016 looks at the ideologies and global movements that it says helped intellectually mold the President of the United States from a critical, conservative perspective. And the ending imagines an America economically undone by four more years of an Obama presidency.

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Destination Art
2:13 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

North Adams, Mass.: A Manufacturing Town For Art

MASS MoCA is a complex of 26 renovated 19th-century factory buildings. The site was formerly the home of Arnold Print Works (1860-1942) and Sprague Electric Company (1942-1985).
MASS MoCA

Originally published on Tue August 21, 2012 1:06 pm

If you ever decide to visit one of the largest museums of contemporary art in the world, prepare yourself: It's a little intimidating. First, you have to drive to upper Massachusetts, just south of the Vermont border, where you'll behold 26 hulking brick buildings: We're talking 600,000 square feet of raw, sunlit space, roughly equivalent to a mid-sized airport.

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Remembrances
3:00 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

David Rakoff Saw The World In All Its Dark Beauty

David Rakoff, the author of Half Empty, Don't Get Too Comfortable and Fraud, was a frequent contributor to This American Life. He died Thursday at the age of 47.
Larry Busacca Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 5:04 pm

When writer David Rakoff died Thursday at the age 47, he was barely the age he said he was always "meant" to be. In his 2010 memoir, Half Empty, he wrote, "Everyone has an internal age, a time in life when one is, if not one's best, then at very least one's most authentic self. I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between 47 and 53 years old."

Rakoff died in New York City after a long struggle with cancer — an ordeal that he wrote about with sobering honesty and biting wit.

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Destination Art
3:32 am
Thu August 2, 2012

Marfa, Texas: An Unlikely Art Oasis In A Desert Town

In the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art that bask beneath vast desert skies. In the years since, Marfa has emerged as a hot spot for art tourism.
Art (c) Judd Foundation Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 4:36 pm

This tiny town perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua desert is nothing less than an arts world station of the cross, like Art Basel in Miami, or Documenta in Germany. It's a blue-chip arts destination for the sort of glamorous scenesters who visit Amsterdam for the Rijksmuseum and the drugs.

"They speak about Marfa with the same kind of reverent tones generally reserved for the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Lourdes," notes Carolina Miranda, a writer who covers the art world.

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Dead Stop
2:56 am
Wed August 1, 2012

The Ghostly Grandeur Of A Desert Graveyard

A couple celebrates Dia de los Muertos at the Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas.
Stacy Kendrick Concordia Cemetery

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 5:31 am

It's a raggedy moonscape; no lush green grass or tranquil arbors here. Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas, just a few blocks from the Mexican border, is stark and dusty. It's overrun with crumbling concrete markers and old wooden crosses gone askew. And it goes on ... and on ... and on.

"It's 52 acres," says Bernie Sargent, chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission. "Sixty thousand people buried here. And they're all dead."

The Grave Of A Wild West Legend

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Monkey See
1:48 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

It Was All A Dream (Or: Turns Out Spoilers Are Good For You)

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 4:24 pm

Chances are, if you're a regular reader of this blog you've read (or perhaps even posted) an incredibly vitriolic comment or two accusing the writer of the despicable crime of spoilers.

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The Record
4:22 pm
Mon July 16, 2012

Kitty Wells, Pioneering Country Singer, Dies

A studio portrait of Kitty Wells in the mid-'70s.
Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 5:29 pm

Kitty Wells revolutionized country music by becoming its first big female solo star. Wells died today at home in Nashville, Tenn., of complications from a stroke. She was 92 years old.

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Author Interviews
1:51 pm
Fri July 6, 2012

Science, The Supernatural Key To 'Night's' Alchemy

Originally published on Tue July 10, 2012 2:46 pm

Deborah Harkness is not only an enormously successful novelist who writes about trendy things like vampires. She's also a respected historian of science — a professor at the University of Southern California — and a wine expert.

In fact there's a lot of wine appreciation in Harkness' breakthrough novel, A Discovery of Witches. Her academic work involves the study of alchemy — the transformation of matter. She says wine is like alchemy, too.

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Around the Nation
3:47 pm
Wed June 27, 2012

Pieces Of AIDS Quilt Blanket Nation's Capital

People view the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the National Mall this week.
Ebony Bailey NPR

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 5:06 pm

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is too big to display all in one piece. Since 1987, it has grown to more than 48,000 panels that honor the lives of more than 94,000 people who have died of AIDS. The last time the whole quilt was shown together was in 1996, on the National Mall. Now it's back in Washington, D.C., for its 25th anniversary.

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Remembrances
9:00 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Ephron: From 'Silkwood' To 'Sally,' A Singular Voice

Author and screenwriter Nora Ephron died Tuesday in New York. She was 71.
Stephen Lovekin Getty Images

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 3:59 pm

Nora Ephron brought us two of the most indelible scenes in contemporary cinema — and they're startlingly different.

There's the infamous "Silkwood shower," from the 1983 movie, with Meryl Streep as a terrified worker at a nuclear power plant, being frantically scrubbed after exposure to radiation.

Then there's the scene in which Meg Ryan drives home a point to Billy Crystal at Katz's Deli, in 1989's When Harry Met Sally. You know — the one that ends with "I'll have what she's having."

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The Record
2:02 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Richard Adler, Broadway Composer And Lyricist, Dies

Celebrated composer and lyricist Richard Adler has died at the age of 90.
Bob Gomel Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri June 22, 2012 4:11 pm

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Pop Culture
3:19 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Branding 'Brave': The Cultural Capital Of Princesses

In Brave, the character of Merida is a skilled archer and sword fighter who rebels against what is expected of her as a princess.
Disney/Pixar

Originally published on Fri June 22, 2012 11:42 am

For little girls, princesses hold roughly the same value that tulips did for the Dutch back in the 1500s, and that princess mania is sure to get a boost with the new Pixar movie Brave, which stars a Scottish princess named Merida.

For a keyhole glimpse into the pink and glittery world of pre-K princess culture, consider the scene at a recent princess-themed birthday party in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

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Monkey See
1:14 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

Aubrey Plaza Takes Quite A Trip In 'Safety Not Guaranteed'

Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed.
Benjamin Kasul FilmDistrict

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 5:53 pm

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The Record
6:28 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Doc Watson, Folk Music Icon, Dies At 89

Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson in the 1960s.
John Cohen Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 5:45 pm

A mountain-born treasure of American folk music, Doc Watson, died Tuesday in North Carolina at age 89.

His manager said in a statement that Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, after abdominal surgery last week.

Watson was born in Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a three-room house he shared with eight brothers and sisters. He revolutionized not just how people play guitar but the way people around the world think about mountain music.

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Movies
3:49 am
Mon May 28, 2012

NFL Players Learn The Drills To Take On Tinseltown

At the 2012 Pro Hollywood Boot Camp in Los Angeles, former Green Bay Packers running back Ahman Green (left) and free agent fullback Ovie Mughelli hang out on the back lot at Universal Studios.
Johnny Vy NFL Network

Originally published on Mon May 28, 2012 5:26 am

Movie sets are usually sort of surreal — all that make-believe and artifice wrapped in the mechanics of a high-stakes industry. But this particular set, in the Universal Studios back lot, is even weirder. It was built for Westerns, with an old-timey saloon and hitching posts.

Right now, it's overrun by professional football players dressed up as cowboys or working as crew.

"Jackson, you're on the boom!" someone shouts.

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Theater
1:16 am
Tue May 8, 2012

A Test Of Hearts, Minds And 'Hands On A Hardbody'

Hands on a Hardbody
La Jolla Playhouse

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 2:04 pm

About 20 years ago, a Texas car dealership started a competition: Contestants had to keep one hand on a brand-new, fully loaded truck; the last person standing got to keep it.

It may not seem like a gripping drama, but it was the subject of a 1997 documentary. And now, it's the basis of a musical.

It's called Hands on a Hardbody, and that hardbody is, yes, the truck. At a rehearsal at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, it's on casters so the actors can spin it around the stage.

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Remembrances
2:36 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

Dick Clark, 'Bandstand' Host, Dead at 82

Pop culture icon Dick Clark died Wednesday at age 82. He started his career as a college disc jockey and went on to shape the way America viewed music, TV game shows and New Year's Eve. Here, he hosts American Bandstand in 1958.
ABC Photo Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 12:59 pm

Dick Clark, affectionately known as the "world's oldest teenager," has died. He was 82, and had suffered a heart attack while in a Santa Monica hospital for an outpatient procedure.

Richard Wagstaff Clark became a national icon with American Bandstand in the 1950s, hosting the show for more than 30 years. Clark also hosted the annual New Year's Eve special for ABC for decades. He weathered scandals, hosted game shows and renewed his Bandstand fame with a new generation by producing the nostalgic TV drama American Dreams.

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Television
2:04 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

'Airbender' Creators Reclaim Their World In 'Korra'

Korra demonstrates fire- and water-bending in The Legend of Korra, a new series from the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It premieres April 14 on Nickelodeon.
Nickelodeon

Originally published on Tue January 29, 2013 3:55 pm

When M. Night Shyamalan's fantasy film The Last Airbender — panned by both critics and fans of the wildly popular TV series on which it was based — flopped majestically at the box office, it looked like the end of a valuable franchise.

But now, with The Legend of Korra, which premieres Saturday on Nickelodeon, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender have been given a rare chance to rebuild a world that was taken away from them.

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Monkey See
1:45 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Fred Savage: A Child Star Makes Good, With Less Than Wholesome Comedies

The face you may remember: Fred Savage cuddles up with a puppy on The Wonder Years, in a photo from December 1989.
ABC Photo Archives Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 4:05 pm

Former Child Star Fatigue. Many of us have suffered it, given the drug problems, the meltdowns, the awful nude photos.

But then there's Fred Savage, who starred in the ABC show The Wonder Years from 1988 through 1993. Now he's a successful, slightly offbeat 35-five-year-old television producer and director. He works on wicked, slightly warped comedies including Party Down, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and as of today, Best Friends Forever. His first network sitcom premieres tonight on NBC.

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Monkey See
10:01 pm
Fri March 30, 2012

Snow White Rising: Why This Princess, And Why This Moment?

Lily Collins plays Snow White in Mirror Mirror opposite Julia Roberts as the vain Queen jealous of Snow's beauty.
Jan Thijs Relativity Media

Originally published on Tue April 3, 2012 12:44 pm

Snow White is having a moment.

The new movie Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. In June, another Snow White movie opens starring another Oscar winner, Charlize Theron, in the same role. And Disney is working on a new animated film loosely based on Snow White set in 19th-century China. So what makes Snow White so right for right now?

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Monkey See
1:00 pm
Fri March 23, 2012

Niecy Nash Puts Her Blended Family In The Reality Spotlight

Niecy Nash is the star of the new family "docu-sitcom," Leave It To Niecy, on TLC.
Robert Ector TLC

If you know the actress and comedian Niecy Nash, you're probably either excited about her new reality show, Leave It To Niecy, or you're cringing just thinking about it. Nash does not do things halfway. Her new show starts Sunday, and it's intended to be something like a real-life Modern Family.

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Business
2:00 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Wal-Mart Backs Hollywood's UltraViolet System

Wal-Mart announced an online video partnership with most of the major Hollywood movie studios on Tuesday. The idea is to make it easier for people to legally watch and share movies digitally.

The Salt
1:46 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Panda Express Takes Sweet And Sour Beyond The Food Court

An employee packs a customer's takeout order at a Panda Express restaurant in Los Angeles.
Fred Prouser Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 5:29 pm

Not all that long ago, many Americans thought of Chinese food as fried rice, chow mein and orange chicken. And one reliable place to find it was at the mall, at places like Panda Express.

But food court mainstay Panda Express is now in the midst of a major transformation. That means moving from mall basements to stand-alone restaurants and keeping pace with an increasingly sophisticated American palate.

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Monkey See
10:01 pm
Sun February 19, 2012

'Awake': Can A Risky New Drama Break A Streak Of Bad Luck?

Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten in NBC's Awake, from writer Kyle Killen.
Lewis Jacobs NBC

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 7:16 am

This piece was not my idea. It was Linda Holmes'. If you're reading this blog, you probably share my regard for her take on popular culture. So my ears pricked up when she suggested I look into doing a radio piece on Kyle Killen.

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Monkey See
7:01 am
Fri February 17, 2012

Is There Hope In Friday Night Television's 'Timeslot Of Death'?

The Wild Ranger crew of Bering Sea Gold: Steve Riedel, owner Vernon Adkison and Captain Scott Meisterheim.
Ryan Rude Discovery Channel

Originally published on Fri February 17, 2012 11:52 am

Call it the resurrection of the time slot of death.

For years, Friday nights have carried a grisly reputation — where shows on broadcast networks are sent to die. But a certain kind of cable show has recently performed well — even really well — on Friday nights.

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