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.

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.

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."

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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.

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.

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.

Singer Marie Fredriksson, who co-founded the hitmaking Swedish pop group Roxette, died yesterday in Sweden. She was 61 years old.

Before she became one of the most recognizable voices of her era, Fredricksson grew up in a tiny village, where her mom was a factory worker and her dad a postman. There wasn't any day care, so he'd take her along while delivering mail and sing to her — the experience was formative.

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Walters Sports Bar is a gleaming new pub just blocks from the largest stadium in Washington, D.C. The decor is industrial chic — exposed ducts and poured concrete floors — and it's spacious enough to accommodate the enormous throngs of elated fans who crowded in after the Washington Nationals' recent World Series win.

On a recent night, the bar was quieter. Still, customer after customer strode up to a stainless steel wall lined with beer taps to insert a card, touch a screen and pour a glass of self-serve beer.

No waitstaff. No waiting.

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Fifty years ago this week, a perfect family appeared on television.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BRADY BUNCH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Here's the story of a lovely lady...

When is it wrong to show cigarette smoking on television, but OK to depict people smoking cannabis products, particularly in programming popular among young teenagers?

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The funny, freckled face of Alfred E. Neuman is more or less retiring.

One of the last widely circulated print satirical magazines in America will leave newsstands after this year, according to sources at DC Comics, which publishes MAD magazine.

While the Harvard Lampoon remains in business, The Onion hasn't been in print since 2013. The once-influential Spy was a casualty of the 1990s.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


There's a certain kind of song you just want to crank up after a bad breakup or a rough day at work. In 1963, a young singer renowned for a hit about getting ditched at a party unleashed just such an anthem.

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