NPR Staff

Anthony Marra writes about Russia like he was born there.

Actually, the 31-year-old American lived there only a semester, as a college student. "I arrived in January without knowing a lick of Russian," he tells Morning Edition host (and former Moscow correspondent) David Greene. "I just became immediately fascinated with the extremes of life, of geography, of political events that it almost seemed impossible not to want to set a story there."

Before there was Madonna or Lady Gaga, there was Grace Jones.

The creator of that gender-bending, hypersexual persona has been a supermodel, a muse for artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, and a musician whose influence is still felt throughout popular music to this day. Now, she's telling her story in a memoir titled I'll Never Write My Memoirs, which shines a spotlight on every side of her — including Beverly Grace Jones ("Bev"), the more reserved childhood version of the future star.

Catholic bishops and other representatives of the world's more than 1 billion Roman Catholics are meeting in Rome on Sunday for the start of the Synod on the Family. This meeting will guide Church teaching on issues like marriage, divorce and contraception.

This September alone, three high school football players died after injuries sustained on the field. The latest, a 17-year-old quarterback from New Jersey, suffered a ruptured spleen during a game just over a week ago.

In some high schools across the U.S., deaths such as these — and an increased focus on the risk of head injury and concussions — have raised concerns among parents and diminished interest in the sport. At others, like the Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in suburban St. Louis, the football programs have disbanded altogether.

Caron Butler has had a stellar career. The two-time NBA All-Star has contributed his talents on the court to the Miami Heat, the LA Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks, where he was part of a championship team in 2011.

But before he got to the NBA, his life was headed in a very different direction. He had a rough upbringing in Racine, Wis., and took an unusual route to get to the pros, which included numerous drug arrests, a stint in prison and a close call that could have changed his entire life — all before he turned 18.

We often feature musicians who make cover albums — their versions of songs made popular by others. Now comes a project where writers — some of the most acclaimed of our time — cover Shakepeare's works, retelling the Bard in their own words. Jeanette Winterson's new novel, The Gap of Time, is a re-imagining of The Winter's Tale, and it's the first book in the series to be published.

The news of John Boehner's resignation as Speaker of the House has many wondering what comes next in such a deeply divided Congress.

NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with House Democratic Leader and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about the role of the speaker and her take on the current climate of the House.

In the web-only interview, Pelosi said the House has a full agenda and that it can "be one that is a successful path to the future or it can be a calendar of chaos, and that really is up to the Republicans."

After Thursday's mass shooting at an Oregon community college, which left nine people dead and more injured, President Obama aired his frustration over gun laws in the U.S. At a news conference Friday, he called on voters to push their representatives to take action.

"You just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter, because that's what is happening on the other side," Obama said. "And that's going to take some time. I mean, the NRA has had a good start."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has lately been confronting questions about ethnic diversity, gender equality and LGBT rights.

Now the church's believers, and its critics, are watching closely to see what a membership shake-up might mean for the church. The senior governing council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expected to name three new leaders to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after the fairly recent deaths of three elder members.

Rosemary Kennedy was a beauty, a debutante, and the daughter of one of America's most glamorous families. She was born with a wealth of advantages as the daughter of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy — but her mental development was flawed at birth, and never got beyond about a fourth-grade level.

And at the age of 23, Rosemary Kennedy underwent a new neurosurgical procedure that a couple of respected doctors said might make it easier for her to function in the world: A lobotomy. The operation left Kennedy mostly mute, withdrawn and damaged.

It's a classic story: A man stranded in a remote, forbidding land, left to scrabble a hard existence while he waits for help that might never come. Think of Robinson Crusoe, Tom Hanks and his beloved volleyball Wilson in Castaway -- even Gilligan's Island, for that matter.

Now, add another to that list: Mark Watney, an astronaut marooned on Mars in the new film The Martian. The movie is directed by Sir Ridley Scott, adapted from Andy Weir's best-selling novel, and filled with A-list stars like Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

You can run out of colorful adjectives trying to describe Julie d'Aubigny. She was, according to history, exquisite in appearance, a graceful and superb fencer, a sublime singer, a swashbuckling duellist, and lover of men and women, famous and cloistered — and that's just the beginning.

Jacques Pépin says his new cookbook, Jacques Pépin: Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is an invitation to join him for dinner at his house. Of course, you'll have to do all the cooking — but you can use his recipes.

Pépin will turn 80 years old this year. He says this is one of his last cookbooks, and it's timed to coincide what he says is his final PBS show, airing this fall: Jacques Pépin: Heart and Soul.

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And let's go behind the scenes of a show that began just after the Vietnam War ended and premieres its 41st season in a much-changed world tomorrow night.


Apple has long touted the power and design of its devices, but recently the world's most valuable company has been emphasizing another feature: privacy. That's no small matter when many users store important private data on those devices: account numbers, personal messages, photos.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks to NPR's Robert Siegel about how the company protects its customers' data, and how it uses — or doesn't use — that information.

Set in 1932, Indian Summers is a tale of two communities. The British rule India, and in their annual tradition, they retreat into the hills — with all their Indian servants — to stay cool during the summer. But while the British gossip over gin and tonics, the Indian streets are brewing with calls for independence. The new 10-part British TV drama — about empire and race and relationships that cross those lines — has just had its U.S. debut on Masterpiece on PBS.

People often ask dancer and choreographer Michelle Dorrance when she knew she wanted to become a professional dancer. Her answer is simple: "I just knew I would never stop tap dancing," she tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "I knew it was possible because our masters die with their shoes on. ... You dance until your '90s."

On Tuesday, the MacArthur Foundation awarded 33-year-old photographer and video artist LaToya Ruby Frazier a MacArthur Genius Grant. Frazier's work is set in Braddock, Pa., the small town outside Pittsburgh where she grew up. Built on steel, today Braddock is struggling to get by. Frazier tells NPR's Ari Shapiro why she chose to focus her lens on her hometown.

Interview Highlights

On why she chose Braddock as her subject

Anthony Marra's first book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, painted a portrait of Chechnya so real and compelling, readers might have felt they'd actually visited that war-torn land. His new collection follows a real painting, a mysterious image of a dacha, and all the lives it touches over seven decades of Russian history.

It's difficult enough to start an orchestra, but Zuhal Sultan founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) as a teenager in the middle of a war. She brought together 40 young musicians from different Iraqi cities and sectarian backgrounds in an effort to unify a divided nation. Now, six years later, the Euphrates Institute has named her Visionary of the Year.

Some pretty horrible things befall astronaut Mark Watney in the new movie The Martian: sandstorms, explosions, extreme isolation, even frustrations growing potatoes. It's a series of unfortunate events that's at once highly scientific and very entertaining.

The Martian is the brainchild of author Andy Weir, who wrote the blockbuster novel that inspired the film. As Weir tells it, he'd always longed for some science fiction with greater emphasis on the science.

Khaled Alkojak is one of the few Syrians to have made it to the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war. Even here, though, the 31-year-old remains in limbo, unsure of how long he'll be allowed to stay.

For now, Alkojak lives in Southern California. When he spoke with NPR's Arun Rath, Alkojak spoke of his life in Syria before the war.

"Nothing special," Alkojak says. "I'm just like any Syrian guy from Damascus. I work with my father; we have a family business."

He helped run his family's Internet cafe, at the same time attending school to study computers.

Years ago, in the small town of Maiden, N.C., a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a storage locker, and in it he found a grill. When he took both of them home and opened the grill, he discovered something he hadn't been expecting: a mummified human leg.

Most people — one presumes — would've have wanted to get rid of the leg as soon as possible. Whisnant, however, wanted to keep it. Trouble is, the original owner of the limb, John Wood, wanted it back. He'd had to have that leg amputated years earlier.

If anyone has the credentials to write a book called The Art Of Language Invention, it's David J. Peterson.

He has two degrees in linguistics. He's comfortable speaking in eight languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Esperanto, Arabic and American Sign Language) — plus a long list of others he's studied but just hasn't tried speaking yet. He's also familiar with fictional languages — both famous ones like Klingon and deep cuts like Pakuni (the caveman language from Land Of The Lost).

There is a special place in the canon for the truly sophisticated children's fantasy series — Tolkein, LeGuin, Lewis, L'Engle ... and Pullman. This year, the first book in Philip Pullman's famed His Dark Materials trilogy turns 20 years old.

The novels in that series — The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass — tell a kind of anti-creation story, the story of 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua, her daemon Pantalaimon, and their epic struggle against a church called the Magisterium.

The children of admired, famous people can have a tough time becoming their own person despite — and even because of — all of their advantages. But what does life hold for the sons and daughters of tyrants and dictators whose very names become synonyms for evil? Does the name they bear sentence them too?

Human smugglers prey on the desperation of people who flee war and oppression. They've made millions moving people across borders, without regard to safety. Thousands have died, locked in packed trucks or trapped in sinking ships — like the "ghost ships," crowded with Syrian refugees, which have been set on course to crash into the Italian coast.

When Sherry Turkle came into the studio for her interview with NPR's Scott Simon, she left her cell phone outside. "I gave my iPhone to someone ... out of my line of vision," she says, "because research shows that the very sight of the iPhone anywhere in your line of vision actually changes the conversation."