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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 stories reflect political and economic realities, cultural issues, obsessions and transitions.

A twenty-year veteran of NPR, Ulaby started as a temporary production assistant on the cultural desk, opening mail, booking interviews and cutting tape with razor blades. Over the years, she's also worked as a producer and editor and won a Gracie award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation for hosting a podcast of NPR's best arts stories.

Ulaby also hosted the Emmy-award winning public television series Arab American Stories in 2012 and earned a 2019 Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. She's also been chosen for fellowships at the Getty Arts Journalism Program at USC Annenberg and the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

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. A former doctoral student in English literature, Ulaby has contributed to academic journals and taught classes in the humanities at the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and at high schools serving at-risk students.

Ulaby worked as an intern for the features desk of the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from Bryn Mawr College. But her first appearance in print was when she was only four days old. She was pictured on the front page of the New York Times, as a refugee, when she and her parents were evacuated from Amman, Jordan, during the conflict known as Black September.

To call an actor a Hollywood legend sounds like hyperbole, but Norman Lloyd really was.

He died Tuesday at his home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, according to his manager, Marion Rosenberg, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Norman Lloyd, born in 1914, got his start performing with the Federal Theatre Project, part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s. It employed hundreds of out of work actors. Lloyd, the son of a Jersey City store manager, soon started acting with Orson Welles at his acclaimed Mercury Theatre.

Our new cicada overlords have officially arrived.

You might be using Cicada Safari to track Brood X, which appears to be slowly emerging from the earth in the U.S. all the way from Florida to Michigan. But cicadas are global citizens. In China, the critters have long been symbolically significant.

Youn Yuh-jung has made Oscar history – and with such style! The glamorous staple of South Korea's film and TV scene is the first Korean and the second Asian to take home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. (The first, Japanese American actress and singer Miyoshi Umeki, won for Sayonara in 1958. Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for Babel in 2007, but the Japanese actress lost that year to Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson.)

The new book World Travel: An Irreverent Guide is credited to Anthony Bourdain. But it was not really written by the bestselling author, chef and TV personality who died in 2018.

The venerable doctor drama Grey's Anatomy is adding new characters, bringing back old ones and writing in COVID-19 subplots in its 17th season. When you look at a list of the longest-running scripted shows, Grey's Anatomy is among the very few still airing on primetime TV, along with The Simpsons (32 seasons), Law & Order: SVU (22 seasons), Family Guy (19 seasons) and NCIS (18 seasons.)

Economic fallout due to the pandemic has been "catastrophic" for the performing arts, according to new data from the industry consulting group TRG Arts.

One of the world's most massive museums has announced an encompassing digitization of its vast collection.

"The Louvre is dusting off its treasures, even the least-known," said Jean-Luc Martinez, President-Director of the Musée du Louvre, in a statement on Friday. "For the first time, anyone can access the entire collection of works from a computer or smartphone for free, whether they are on display in the museum, on loan, even long-term, or in storage."

Could there be a more unloved, abject literary form than the press release? Inherently clammy and needy, press releases crowd the inboxes of busy reporters, who find it all too easy to ignore their entreaties. ("My client is soooo great!")

But every so often, a press release shows up like this one from Early Music New York. It arrived with the swagger of a carnival barker. It was flashy. It was fun.

Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, this year's winners of the most prestigious award in architecture, are as surprised as anyone else.

"Of course it's very pleasant, and we are very pleased," Lacaton marveled in a Zoom call with NPR. She and her partner, both wearing black, smiled broadly from the screen behind their blocky eyeglasses.

When Jeff Sedlik opens up Amazon, he sees his work for sale all over the place. A successful commercial photographer, his photos are easily spotted on T-shirts, hats, bibs, mugs, calendars, cellphone cases and so forth.

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It's highly unusual to start an obituary with a warning about sexual content ahead. But Larry Flynt would've approved.

Flynt was a hard core pornographer whose Supreme Court case in 1988 made him a free speech folk hero. Admire him, despise him — or both, Flynt left a singular mark on culture and politics. Flynt died on Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. He was 78 years old.

COVID-19 across California is really, really bad.

How bad? Purple-tier bad.

California, along with Ohio and Colorado, employs a color-coded system to warn about the prevalence of the Coronavirus. The basic idea's not unfamiliar for many of us: green is fine, yellow indicates the spread is minimal, orange is moderate, and red means substantial. But purple?

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This has been an exciting day in the world of children's literature. NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us about the winners of the annual Newbery and Caldecott medals announced this morning in a ceremony that took place, of course, online.

Updated at 2:52 p.m. ET

Legendary music producer Phil Spector — who was convicted in 2009 of murdering actress Lana Clarkson — died Saturday at age 81. His death was announced Sunday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which said that he had died of natural causes. His official cause of death is yet to be determined.

Film director Michael Apted died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, according to his agent, Roy Ashton. No details of his death were given. At 79, Apted left behind a body of work ranging from biopics to a James Bond movie to a celebrated documentary series that established Apted as a pioneering longitudinal filmmaker.

Apted's audience literally grew up with him. In 1963, Apted was a 22-year-old Cambridge law student from southeast England who aspired to be a filmmaker. He found a job as a researcher for a TV documentary called Seven Up!

What a year it was for Anglo-American literature and the arts!

1925 was the year of heralded novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, seminal works by Sinclair Lewis, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Agatha Christie, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley ... and a banner year for musicians, too. Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, among hundreds of others, made important recordings. And 1925 marked the release of canonical movies from silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Christmas romantic comedies are known for cozy sweaters, roaring fireplaces, meaningful glances over cups of hot chocolate and stars who, until recently, looked like a bunch of models from a Land's End catalog circa 1985.

The Library of Congress tries to raise awareness of film conservation every year by adding 25 movies to the National Film Registry to preserve for posterity.

Who wants to play with toys that poop?

Seven year old Jack Reynolds does. The second grader in Denver, Colo., enthusiastically showed off his collection via video to a reporter. It includes an adorable pooping stuffed animal, a bathtub game called Fishin' For Floaters and fuzzy brown poop emoji bed slippers. When asked why he likes such toys, Jack was unequivocal.

"Because poop is stinky!" he announced. "Gross! Smooshy!"

Before the pandemic trapped Stacey Mei Yan Fong in her Brooklyn kitchen, the 32-year-old handbag designer was baking her way across America, one pie at a time.

The Qualla Boundary is not technically a reservation, but everyone around here calls it one. The ancestral home of the Cherokee people sprawls across western North Carolina, a mountainous region thick with yellow birch and red maple forests, Dollar Generals, and ancient ceremonial mounds dating back to at least 1000 BCE. It's also home to first-time author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle.

"My Cherokee ancestors have been here, we would say, since the beginning of time," Clapsaddle says. "Other people would say over ten thousand years."

You should be counting your Thanksgiving blessings if you have someone like Jasmine Surti in your immediate family or circle. She's a mother, a daughter, a friend to many in Lawrenceville, N.J. And she's the sort of super-planner who joyfully takes on the daunting task of organizing a pandemic Thanksgiving.

"Well, I guess I like to make spreadsheets and surveys and things," Surti acknowledges with sheepish pride. "Basically, problem solving, you could say."

Who could've predicted chess sets might become as difficult to find as toilet paper during the early weeks of the pandemic? Not Gerrick Johnson. The toy analyst with BMO Capital Markets found himself stymied while searching for a particular Cardinal chess set a few weeks ago.

"It was sold out everywhere I went," he says.

Sales of chess sets have skyrocketed, says Mary Higbe, director of marketing at Goliath Games. The company sells six different kinds of chess sets, including those familiar red-boxed Pressman sets you've probably seen in the toy aisle at Walmart.

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