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.

"Look at someone like this guy right here," Alex Taub says, intently peering at his laptop screen.

We're in Taub's office right off Union Square in New York City. It's the headquarters of SocialRank, the startup he co-founded. SocialRank shows companies and public figures with brands to promote which of their followers on Twitter and Instagram are most valuable.

Taub's pulled up his own Twitter account to show me one of his own followers, someone who seems valuable.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize is often called the Nobel for architects, and this year's winner is 48-year-old Chilean designer Alejandro Aravena. His prestige projects include the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company in China and a dormitory at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.

The Great British Bake Off was the most popular program in Britain in 2015, and the show boasts a devout following in the U.S. [Ed. Note: If you're part of that U.S. following, be warned: We're about to discuss the most recent season, which hasn't yet aired in the U.S.]

Ellsworth Kelly, one of the greatest American artists of the past century, has died at 92.

Kelly died at his home in Spencertown, N.Y., says gallery owner Matthew Marks, who has represented the artist for two decades. Kelly is survived by his longtime partner Jack Shear.

For many American Jews, Christmas Day means Chinese food and movies. But how do American Muslims spend their time on Christmas?

Jesus is also revered as a prophet in Islam. "Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus is the only messiah," explains Hisham Mahmoud, an Arabic teacher at Harvard University. He points out that Jesus' mother, Mary, is considered by Muslims to be a saint. "In fact, there's an entire chapter in the Quran called 'Mary,' and the story of Jesus' birth is recounted in that chapter," he says.

Sometimes an aging movie star must sit and watch as a charismatic newcomer steals the spotlight — even inanimate ones. R2-D2, the adorable little robot — or droid — first appeared in Star Wars in 1977. And over the years he's faced cute competition from Yoda, and the Ewoks. But the latest Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, brings us what might be an even cuter new droid: BB-8.

For some of us, the best part of Thanksgiving comes from a forkful of flavors all swirled together — turkey, gravy, cranberry and stuffing. It's a savory symphony in your mouth.

Chefs in New York City are experimenting with putting together all of those ingredients into a one-bite Thanksgiving dinner.

George Takei has, over the years, lent his gently charismatic presence to many stages — the original Star Trek soundstage, where he played the USS Enterprise's Mr. Sulu, then the social media stage, where he emerged as a leading activist for gay and lesbian rights. Now, Takei is making his Broadway stage debut in Allegiance, a musical inspired by his childhood experience in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A new movie opening next week follows a macho guy in a rough job.

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One of the best-reviewed shows on Broadway right now is a revival of a musical that closed there only six years ago. Spring Awakening is based on a play about German teenagers in the 1890s. Part dark morality play, part rock opera, the musical swept the 2007 Tony awards and made TV stars of its two main leads, Leah Michele (of Glee) and Jonathan Groff (of Looking).

Ruth Reichl is in her green-tiled kitchen on the Upper West Side, stirring pungent fish sauce into a wok of sizzling pork. Perhaps you remember her as a highly influential restaurant critic for the LA Times and the New York Times (15 years), or from her best-selling books about food (three, including her memoir Tender At The Bone) or that she ran Gourmet magazine for 10 years.

Six African-American women leap and run across scuffed wooden floors in a drab Broadway dance studio. They're creating complicated patterns, reshaping the air under harsh fluorescent lights. These are the women of Camille A. Brown and Dancers.

Brown, the company's 35-year-old founder, wears bright red athletic shorts and swings Raggedy Ann-colored braids. She spends more than two hours running through the same single minute of the show, over and over, until the dancers nail it.

While driving to his studio in New York's Rockaway Beach neighborhood, artist Christopher Saucedo looks out across Jamaica Bay. He sees a glittering Manhattan and the spire of the new World Trade Center gleaming in a cloudless sky.

"Obviously, where it stands there were once two other very tall towers," the art professor says dryly.

He was called the Sultan of Shock and the Guru of Gore: Wes Craven, who died Sunday, directed dozens of now-classic horror movies, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and all of the Scream films.

Scream, from 1996, is an expert parody of horror movies, filled with inside jokes — like the girl alone in the house who gets a phone call that's coming from closer than she thinks. Writer Kevin Williamson made it funny. Craven made it scary.

News about the stock market's ups and downs hardly comes as music to the ears — unless you happen to be experimental musician Jace Clayton.

Clayton, who also performs and records as DJ /rupture, is working on a new composition called Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which uses an algorithm to translate the market's movements into a piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are the three Greek goddesses of fate, and Gbadu is a dual-gendered West African fate deity.

Skylar Fein had only lived in New Orleans for a week before Hurricane Katrina nearly tore it apart. He'd moved there to go to medical school, and found himself wandering around a wrecked city. "It's really hard to describe to someone who hadn't seen it what the streets looked like after the storm," he recalls.

Fein is among other New Orleans artists exhibiting work in shows commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2005 storm. One thing he has in common with some of the other artists: They weren't artists before the hurricane hit.

Anniversaries call for exhibitions, and art museums across New Orleans felt compelled to remember Hurricane Katrina as the 10th anniversary of its landfall approaches. But the anniversary shows at some of the city's most high-profile museums seem surprisingly understated, at least to outsiders' eyes. In fact, they barely seem to be about Katrina at all.

It's blazingly hot outside and five summer fellows from the Tulane City Center are standing in a playground at a youth center in New Orleans. The architecture students diplomatically describe the playground's design as "unintentional": There's no grass, trees or even much shade, and it's surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The students, both graduate and undergraduate, are there to make the playground a little nicer.

"Right now, it feels like a prison," says Maggie Hansen, the center's interim director.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A word of caution now. You're about to hear the old nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner" in the creepy voice of one of the world's first talking dolls.

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It has been called the "Super Bowl of the ocean."

Shark Week is a ratings bonanza for the Discovery Channel with more than 40 million people tuning in last year. Shark Week kicked off this weekend with the most hours of programming ever in its 28-year history But many scientists think the huge audiences — and the hype — have come at the expense of real science.

A generation of shark scientists cut their teeth on Shark Week.

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