Arts and culture



And now, it's time to meet the woman People magazine has hailed as the Cal Ripken of Broadway. Her name is Catherine Russell, and since 1987, Ms. Russell has performed the role of psychiatrist and possible killer, Margaret Brent, in the Off-Broadway thriller called "Perfect Crime." That is more than 10,000 performances. And later this week, Catherine Russell - and the play - will mark a 25th anniversary. Catherine Russell joins us now from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Catherine.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Thank you very much.

A year ago this week, photojournalist Tim Hetherington posted this message on Twitter:

Those words ended up being some of Hetherington's last; he was killed in Misrata, along with fellow photographer Chris Hondros.

Monsieur Lazhar is a French Canadian film, a bittersweet comedy about an Algerian immigrant who gently moves into the role of teacher and comforter for a grief-stricken class of middle-school children in Montreal.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 2011. (It lost to Iran's A Separation.) But last month it swept the Genies, Canada's national film prizes, winning best picture, director, actor and three other awards.

On-Air Challenge: You'll be given a two- or three-word description of a famous person. The initial letters of the description are also the initials of the person.






Now, a piece of fiction inspired by the Titanic's fateful voyage. In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the famous shipwreck, a cluster of books have been released looking back on the voyage. But the book that caught the eye of NPR's Lynn Neary is invented. It's the story of a fictional shipwreck that occurred two years after the Titanic. It's called "Lifeboat." Here's her report.

'Prague Fatale': 'Downton Abbey With SS'

Apr 14, 2012

Philip Kerr is a British novelist, born a decade after the end of World War II, who has written a series of compelling thrillers about crime in wartime Nazi Germany. His hero — mostly a hero — is a tough and cynical Berliner, a cop named Bernie Gunther. The newest book is the eighth in the series; it's called Prague Fatale.

Many famous names went down with the Titanic, like the American millionaire John Jacob Astor IV, the wealthiest person on the ship, and Macy's department store owner Isidor Straus.

But you may not know about one of the ship's doctors — John Edward Simpson. Aboard the Titanic, Simpson wrote a letter to his mother back home in Belfast. It was mailed from the great ship's last port of call before it made its disastrous turn across the North Atlantic.

The United States ranks as the most religious country in the developed world. And New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says that despite our politics, debates and doubts, this country is as God-besotted today as ever.

But in his new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Douthat argues that religion has fallen into heresy (hence the feisty subtitle). Douthat recently spoke with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about why he thinks American Christianity has become distorted.

Interview Highlights

Isn't rotting food beautiful?

Nobody likes to see good food go bad. But Klaus Pichler's photography series One Third, which portrays food in advanced stages of decay, is a feast for the eyes — even if it turns the stomach.

Jim Bouton is a former All-Star pitcher for the New York Yankees. His classic baseball memoir Ball Four, which was first published in 1970, is just out as an e-book.

Bouton famously wrote about shenanigans in baseball, which have arguably gotten worse since then. But compared to other sports around the world, baseball players are hardly immoral at all. We're going to ask him three questions about people who really know how to cheat.

This weekend, the Farrelly Brothers' version of The Three Stooges arrives in theaters. You'll see plenty of Larry, Moe and Curly. But who won't you see? Shemp. Or, as NPR's Sue Goodwin calls him, "Uncle Shemp."

Permanent Siesta: 3 Books To Whisk You Away

Apr 13, 2012

One doesn't necessarily associate spring travel with heavy reading. For one, books are bulky luggage, the weighty enemies of economical packers; even an e-reader takes up precious space in one's overflowing duffel. And two, escapist migration to mountaintops or flowery fields or seaside locales for sun worship and meditative communion with nature connotes a markedly book-free environment, an escape from the office or the solemn halls of academe.

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.

As part of Tell Me More's series for National Poetry Month, host Michel Martin shares a poetic tweet from translator and writer Susan Layug of Chicago, Illinois. Listeners are invited to tweet original poems of 140 characters or less to #TMMPoetry.

This Sunday, HBO premieres a new comedy series that's written and directed by Lena Dunham, who grabbed the media spotlight in 2010 with her film Tiny Furniture. She's 25 years old now, and stars in this new TV series as well.

This interview was originally broadcast on October 20, 2011.

A few years after her younger brother John died from AIDS-related complications in 1989, poet Marie Howe wrote him a poem in the form of a letter. Called "What the Living Do," the poem is an elegiac description of loss, and of living beyond loss.

Whenever a lead singer's star presence, whether through force of vision or excess of vanity, eclipses the collective unit of a rock band, the other members become — to quote the great Cameron Crowe rock odyssey Almost Famous — "the out-of-focus guys."

At the start of a bright, sunny day that seems otherwise like any other day, a popular teacher is found dead in her classroom. It was suicide.

The school is traumatized, especially that teacher's students. By the next day, the principal is at her wits' end trying to find someone willing to take the class. So when Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) offers to teach, it comes at just the right moment.

The animated film Chico and Rita is set in 1940s Havana, at a time when Cuban musicians were starting to leave the country and join the jazz scene in New York. It was also a time when musical styles were fusing — and changing the Afro-Cuban jazz scene entirely.

The film tells the story of Chico, one of the best piano players in Havana, and Rita, his sultriest singer. They're lovers, and eventually their migration takes them past New York to Paris — criss-crossing continents to make music while struggling to keep themselves and their relationship afloat.

Surviving 'Immobility' And End Times

Apr 12, 2012

Stories about the end of the world are as old as literature itself. From the tale of Noah's Ark to the plague-ravaged landscapes of Mary Shelley's controversial 1826 novel The Last Man, writers have long held a morbid fascination with the possibility of a future apocalypse.

Mike Huckabee fell short four years ago in his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee. As of this week, the former Arkansas governor has a new job: national radio talk show host.

The Mike Huckabee Show started Monday with an anticipatory flourish.

"Welcome to the community of conversation. You've just made a right turn, and you've arrived at the corner of conservatism and common sense," he said. "In this show, we're going to be confronting the issues — not the listeners."

New In Paperback April 9-15

Apr 11, 2012

Fiction and nonfiction releases from Mary Gordon, Henning Mankell, Jim Rasenberger, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Meghan O'Rourke .

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

Nadine Gordimer's trademark characters live for politics, the Struggle. You get the feeling they would be sick to their collective stomachs if they ever even tried to bite into a gourmet cupcake.

Virginia Author Remembers Nostalgic Summers

Apr 11, 2012

As part of Tell Me More's series for National Poetry Month, guest host Viviana Hurtado shares a poetic tweet from author and professor Luisa Igloria of Norfolk, Virginia. Listeners are invited to tweet original poems of 140 characters or less to #TMMPoetry.

The 19th New York African Film Festival kicks off Wednesday, with a wide selection of films exploring ideas of home and homeland. Guest host Viviana Hurtado speaks with the festival's founder Mahen Bonetti, and documentary filmmaker Laura Gamse, who is showing her film The Creators about South African artists.

Carole King initially found it extremely difficult to navigate the social hierarchies of high school. The Grammy Award-winning songwriter was a few years younger than her fellow classmates and was often dismissed as being "cute."

"And it was like, no, I don't want to be cute, I want to be beautiful and smart," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And that wasn't happening, and then I connected through music. So music became a way of identifying my particular niche. How lucky for me."

In the most vital essay on crime fiction ever written — Raymond Chandler's 1944 apologia "The Simple Art of Murder" — Chandler paid this tribute to his hard-boiled predecessor, Dashiell Hammett: "Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley."

Earlier this month, tenor Juan Diego Florez made headlines when he sang the aria "Una furtiva lagrima" in the Donizetti opera L'elisir D'Amore at the Metropolitan Opera — not once, but twice.

The audience responded so enthusiastically that after well over a minute of applause and shouts of "Encore!" he sang the whole thing again — all five minutes of it.