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.

Another hot summer, another heated controversy at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

For an exhibition entitled "Collective Actions: Artist Interventions In A Time of Change," the vaunted New York museum managed to alienate a group of artists it had hoped to celebrate. Several of them charged the museum with propagating systemic racism by not properly compensating BIPOC artists for their work, nor asking permission for the work to be displayed.

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Acclaimed singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has died at the age of 38. He's the son of alt-country star Steve Earle who earned critical acclaim of his own and multiple awards despite struggles with addiction. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

On Tuesday, President Trump officially pardoned leading suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who died in 1906. He noted she was arrested in 1872 for voting before it was legal for women to do so.

"She was never pardoned!" he exclaimed in a White House ceremony. "Did you know that she was never pardoned? What took so long?"

The timing feels terribly apt.

Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression turned 50 this year. A bestseller in 1970, the book was one of nearly two dozen written by the cheerfully empathetic historian and journalist Studs Terkel.

Legendary newspaperman and author Pete Hamill has died at the age of 85 in New York City, his hometown.

"He fell on Saturday and died this morning of heart and kidney failure," his longtime literary agent Esther Newberg told NPR in an email, adding, "One of a kind."

It's no exaggeration to say this year feels like a horror movie. And now, a few filmmakers are making it official.

Museums seem like immortal places, with their august countenances and treasured holdings. Even in our TikTok era of diminishing attention spans, they draw more than 850 million visitors a year in the U.S., according to the American Alliance of Museums.

Updated at 8:39 p.m. ET Tuesday

The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the death of actor Naya Rivera to be an accidental drowning. She had disappeared on July 8 while boating with her 4-year-old son, and her body was recovered from a Southern California lake on Monday.

Best known for her starring role on the Fox show Glee, Rivera was 33 years old.

Mary Maxon was out raking hay on her tractor yesterday morning when a beep on her phone alerted her to the good news. The arts organization she runs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota had just been awarded a $50,000 grant through the CARES Act.

It's hard enough for any museum trying to reopen right now, but children's museums face especially tough challenges. (Especially those with names like Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum, the Hands On! Discovery Center in Gray, Tenn., and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum in Michigan.)

Editor's note: This story contains language that may be offensive.

Larry Kramer was one of the first activists against AIDS, back when the disease didn't even have a name. In the early 1980s, Kramer witnessed hundreds, then thousands of gay men die before the government took action to stop the spread of HIV. He became a high-profile, high-volume, one-man crusade against the disease.

Kramer died Wednesday morning of pneumonia in Manhattan, Will Schwalbe, his friend and literary executor, told NPR. He was 84.

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Here's something we have in common with Americans who lived during the Great Depression - not just horrifically high unemployment rates but bitter ideological divides.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

The Great Depression challenged Americans not just with horrifically high unemployment, but ideological divides not utterly unlike the ones we face today. Today, poll after poll show the country deeply split on major issues. Racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise. Back then, the labor movement was burgeoning; so was membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

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The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today, a month later than usual due to the pandemic. And as NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us, the prizes for journalism, fiction and music were joined by a new category - audio.

The last great pandemic struck the world more than 100 years ago. But voices from that time can still be heard in Radio Influenza, a haunting work of audio art available online.

The voices are not real. They're computerized. They sound tinny and faraway as they read fragments of newspaper stories from 1918, when the so-called Spanish flu ravaged the planet. Still, these fleeting dispatches from the past are uncannily relevant

There's a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Which explains a major trend in entertainment: People are revisiting favorite TV shows, and listening to music they already know they like.

"When I was on night shift a couple of weeks ago and made mix tapes for my team, I took no musical risks," says Miriam Segura-Harrison, a 36-year-old family medicine resident at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "It was the soundtrack to 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Daft Punk and Wolfgang Gartner — my personal set list that got me through medical school."

Picture an angry little ball, covered in spikes, perhaps equipped with arms and legs, and definitely an evil grin. That's how cartoonists and animators are anthropomorphizing Covid-19. Which seems to make the coronavirus unique in our long history of anthropomorphizing diseases.

Imagine a version of the NBC hit comedy The Office where everyone's working from home. Irritating boss Michael can't stop sending vaguely inappropriate gifs, lumpish Kevin can't quite master the mute button and workplace wiseguy Jim is always looking directly at the camera, because, well, he has no other choice. He's stuck in meetings on Zoom.

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Updated March 25, 3:11 p.m. ET.

The National Recording Registry was founded in 2000 by the Library of Congress to showcase the breadth and depth of American sound. Every year, 25 recordings are picked to be preserved for posterity.

When you want a movie to generate international buzz, you take it to Cannes. The annual film festival in an otherwise sleepy French coastal city has in the past honored such movies as Parasite, Pulp Fiction and Apocalypse Now with its top prize, the Palme d'Or, months before they were nominated for best picture Oscars.

But this year, for the first time since it began, the Cannes Film Festival will be postponed from its opening date of May 12, because of concerns over the coronavirus.

One thousand years of Native American women's art is currently traveling around the country, being featured at major museums.

"The whole idea to wipe us off the face of the Earth didn't work," says Anita Fields, an Osage artist in the show. "So we're still very powerfully here."

In a video released by the Pritzker Architecture Prize, commonly seen as the Nobel of the architecture world, the winners look directly into the camera and introduce themselves in soft Irish accents.

The museum faced a docent dilemma.

When Ellen Owens, director of learning and public engagement at the Penn Museum, looked at her pool of docents, she saw a wonderful — and aging — group of largely white people. Docents explain exhibits to visitors and show them around the galleries. Owens thought that having docents from a range of ages and backgrounds might be a good way to connect with more diverse communities who might not otherwise be drawn to the Penn Museum.

We've been telling stories about pandemics for a very long time. From an eighth century BCE poem about a Babylonian plague god to the Old Testament's ten plagues of Egypt to, well, the AMC megahit zombie show The Walking Dead, now in its tenth season.

The technical wonder of a movie, 1917, could win up to 10 Oscars on Sunday. Filmed to look like a single shot, its view is glued upon two soldiers racing behind enemy lines during the ravages of World War I. This is the second time in recent years that a one-shot film swept up Oscar nominations.

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There's this buzzy new reality TV show on Netflix called "The Circle." The hook is that the characters live in total isolation from each other. They only communicate through social media like IMs and group texts.

Bryan Stevenson's bestselling book Just Mercy may not seem like the most obvious candidate for a splashy Hollywood movie adaptation. It's about the founding of a not-for-profit advocacy organization that helps low-income people who were denied fair trials. And the plot follows the grueling legal work necessary to appeal the sentences of convicted murderers on Alabama's death row, not all of whom are wrongly accused.

Looking At Reality TV

Dec 27, 2019

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This week, we have been looking at stories that got lost in the crazed news cycle of 2019. Some of them, of course, were arts stories, and NPR arts correspondent Neda Ulaby is here to tell us about an unexpected and welcome trend on television. Neda, thanks for coming in.

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