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.

When writer David Rakoff died Thursday at the age 47, he was barely the age he said he was always "meant" to be. In his 2010 memoir, Half Empty, he wrote, "Everyone has an internal age, a time in life when one is, if not one's best, then at very least one's most authentic self. I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between 47 and 53 years old."

Rakoff died in New York City after a long struggle with cancer — an ordeal that he wrote about with sobering honesty and biting wit.

This tiny town perched on the high plains of the Chihuahua desert is nothing less than an arts world station of the cross, like Art Basel in Miami, or Documenta in Germany. It's a blue-chip arts destination for the sort of glamorous scenesters who visit Amsterdam for the Rijksmuseum and the drugs.

"They speak about Marfa with the same kind of reverent tones generally reserved for the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Lourdes," notes Carolina Miranda, a writer who covers the art world.

It's a raggedy moonscape; no lush green grass or tranquil arbors here. Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas, just a few blocks from the Mexican border, is stark and dusty. It's overrun with crumbling concrete markers and old wooden crosses gone askew. And it goes on ... and on ... and on.

"It's 52 acres," says Bernie Sargent, chair of the El Paso County Historical Commission. "Sixty thousand people buried here. And they're all dead."

The Grave Of A Wild West Legend

Chances are, if you're a regular reader of this blog you've read (or perhaps even posted) an incredibly vitriolic comment or two accusing the writer of the despicable crime of spoilers.

Kitty Wells revolutionized country music by becoming its first big female solo star. Wells died today at home in Nashville, Tenn., of complications from a stroke. She was 92 years old.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is too big to display all in one piece. Since 1987, it has grown to more than 48,000 panels that honor the lives of more than 94,000 people who have died of AIDS. The last time the whole quilt was shown together was in 1996, on the National Mall. Now it's back in Washington, D.C., for its 25th anniversary.

Nora Ephron brought us two of the most indelible scenes in contemporary cinema — and they're startlingly different.

There's the infamous "Silkwood shower," from the 1983 movie, with Meryl Streep as a terrified worker at a nuclear power plant, being frantically scrubbed after exposure to radiation.

Then there's the scene in which Meg Ryan drives home a point to Billy Crystal at Katz's Deli, in 1989's When Harry Met Sally. You know — the one that ends with "I'll have what she's having."

For little girls, princesses hold roughly the same value that tulips did for the Dutch back in the 1500s, and that princess mania is sure to get a boost with the new Pixar movie Brave, which stars a Scottish princess named Merida.

For a keyhole glimpse into the pink and glittery world of pre-K princess culture, consider the scene at a recent princess-themed birthday party in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

A mountain-born treasure of American folk music, Doc Watson, died Tuesday in North Carolina at age 89.

His manager said in a statement that Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, after abdominal surgery last week.

Watson was born in Deep Gap, N.C., in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a three-room house he shared with eight brothers and sisters. He revolutionized not just how people play guitar but the way people around the world think about mountain music.

About 20 years ago, a Texas car dealership started a competition: Contestants had to keep one hand on a brand-new, fully loaded truck; the last person standing got to keep it.

It may not seem like a gripping drama, but it was the subject of a 1997 documentary. And now, it's the basis of a musical.

It's called Hands on a Hardbody, and that hardbody is, yes, the truck. At a rehearsal at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, it's on casters so the actors can spin it around the stage.

Dick Clark, affectionately known as the "world's oldest teenager," has died. He was 82, and had suffered a heart attack while in a Santa Monica hospital for an outpatient procedure.

Richard Wagstaff Clark became a national icon with American Bandstand in the 1950s, hosting the show for more than 30 years. Clark also hosted the annual New Year's Eve special for ABC for decades. He weathered scandals, hosted game shows and renewed his Bandstand fame with a new generation by producing the nostalgic TV drama American Dreams.

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.

Former Child Star Fatigue. Many of us have suffered it, given the drug problems, the meltdowns, the awful nude photos.

But then there's Fred Savage, who starred in the ABC show The Wonder Years from 1988 through 1993. Now he's a successful, slightly offbeat 35-five-year-old television producer and director. He works on wicked, slightly warped comedies including Party Down, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and as of today, Best Friends Forever. His first network sitcom premieres tonight on NBC.

Snow White is having a moment.

The new movie Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. In June, another Snow White movie opens starring another Oscar winner, Charlize Theron, in the same role. And Disney is working on a new animated film loosely based on Snow White set in 19th-century China. So what makes Snow White so right for right now?

If you know the actress and comedian Niecy Nash, you're probably either excited about her new reality show, Leave It To Niecy, or you're cringing just thinking about it. Nash does not do things halfway. Her new show starts Sunday, and it's intended to be something like a real-life Modern Family.

Not all that long ago, many Americans thought of Chinese food as fried rice, chow mein and orange chicken. And one reliable place to find it was at the mall, at places like Panda Express.

But food court mainstay Panda Express is now in the midst of a major transformation. That means moving from mall basements to stand-alone restaurants and keeping pace with an increasingly sophisticated American palate.

This piece was not my idea. It was Linda Holmes'. If you're reading this blog, you probably share my regard for her take on popular culture. So my ears pricked up when she suggested I look into doing a radio piece on Kyle Killen.

Call it the resurrection of the time slot of death.

For years, Friday nights have carried a grisly reputation — where shows on broadcast networks are sent to die. But a certain kind of cable show has recently performed well — even really well — on Friday nights.

The "Matriarch of the Blues" has died. Music legend Etta James died Friday morning at Riverside Community Hospital in California of complications from leukemia. She was 73.

She was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. Her first manager and promoter cut up Jamesetta's name and reversed it: Etta James.

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert is running for president. He's parodying the process — including, now, superPACS — in the same way he has parodied cable news. He's getting plenty of attention, but to really look into his political practical joke, I needed to go upstairs and find Peter Overby, NPR's man on campaign finance. I warned him it would seem like a dumb question, but I needed his help. What, exactly, is a superPAC?

Remember that movie Sarah's Key? Did you miss it? It was last year's highest grossing foreign-language film, but it made less than eight million dollars. The fact is that selling foreign language films to U.S. audiences is a notorious challenge. Nevertheless, Fox, one of the world's most powerful media conglomerates, is beefing up its investment in foreign films.

TV Producer Profile

Jan 10, 2012

One of the most powerful producers in Hollywood is black, female, middle-aged and Muslim. Mara Brock Akil produces, along with her husband,The Game -- one of the biggest hit TV shows on cable. Last year, the couple collaborated on the film "Jumping the Broom.

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