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.

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Updated at 11:41 p.m. ET

Zsa Zsa Gabor — the woman who probably inspired the term "famous for being famous" — died on Sunday, according to multiple media outlets. She was 99 years old, just two months shy of her 100th birthday.

NPR confirmed Gabor's death with her publicist, Edward Lozzi, who issued the following statement:

When Dominika Tamley chose "Isebelle," her American Girl doll, she picked a toy whose hair and eye color matched her own. But the 10-year-old is quick to point out that's not the only way the doll resembles the real child who plays with her.

"She's like a mini-me," Tamley explained with pride. "Because she has a hearing aid and I have a hearing aid."

Barbara Massaad was watching a TV news program about the plight of Syrian refugees from her apartment in the suburbs of Beirut when she decided to visit a refugee camp herself.

"I just wanted to go and see what was happening," she told me. "So I went and started taking photographs and talking to people about food."

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And now a lesbian love story turned into a film by a South Korean director based on a best-selling novel set in Victorian London. It's called "The Handmaiden," and Neda Ulaby is going to tell us more about it.

Artist Ragnar Kjartansson stands surrounded by women in gold strapless gowns. One by one, the women climb onto a slowly rotating pedestal to practice their performance: strumming an E minor chord on a golden guitar for two and a half hours. The group is rehearsing in a cavernous gallery at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The piece, Woman in E, is a new-ish work by Kjartansson, one of the art world's biggest stars.

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When Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature this morning, he joined a lineage that includes Harold Pinter, Thomas Mann and Toni Morrison. NPR's Neda Ulaby looks at how Dylan fits into this group.

It's well-known that Dear Leader was crazy about movies. What's less known — at least in the West — is that infamous North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was so crazy about them that he kidnapped a South Korean actress and a movie director in 1978 and forced them to work for him for years. That story is the subject of a new documentary called The Lovers and the Despot.

When's the last time you ordered turtle when you went out to eat?

Most of us would probably turn it down in an instant if we saw it on a menu. But terrapin was a completely normal entree for diners at the finest restaurants of a century ago. America's changing tastes — and what they have to say about our culture — are explored in a new nonfiction book, Ten Restaurants That Changed America.

It's a sweltering night in July and Los Angeles' Underground Museum is packed. "It's crowded and hot, but it feels really good," says vistor Jazzi McGilbert. Like much of the crowd, McGilbert is young, creative and African-American. She drove across town to this unassuming, bunkerlike storefront for an event that combines art and activism. The museum is one of her favorite spots in Los Angeles. "I like what it stands for," McGilbert says. "... And the art is incredible."

Happily, the creators behind the 1980s comic series Suicide Squad have been getting a fair amount of attention with the release of the splashy new movie it has inspired. Writer John Ostrander created the comic (with artist Luke McDonnell) and Ostrander's late wife, Kimberly Yale, co-wrote it for much of its run. But in all the coverage of the film, Yale has been completely overlooked.

In four months, on the first Friday after the elections in November, Renee Montagne will step away from the host chair on Morning Edition after 12 years.

That's 12 years of arriving at work every weekday at midnight. Montagne works out of the NPR West studio in Culver City, Calif., on the outskirts of Los Angeles. That means at 2 a.m. PT, she's sounding bright and fully caffeinated for Morning Edition's earliest East Coast broadcasts. Her punishing hours were a point of pride — but only to a point.

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Now a work of art.

CRAIG THORNTON: There's beef tongue, Asian pear, a squid ink dumpling skin.

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Something magical happened about 20 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE")

Lupita Nyong'o lives in a sunny apartment high above the East River in Brooklyn. Black-and-white photos of African wildlife hang on orange accent walls, near a collection of pretty blue pottery. The actress just earned rave reviews for her Broadway debut, in the play Eclipsed. She's also featured in the biggest movie in theaters now, The Jungle Book. It's possible you heard about her last little film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

You probably remember that discredited Rolling Stone story about an alleged fraternity rape, or the coverage of a Columbia University student who carried around a mattress she says she was raped on; maybe you saw the headlines about two Steubenville, Ohio, high school athletes

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Tens of millions of Americans have been tuning in to March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, what a save. And Lindsey with the finish.

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The same day the president announced his nominee for the Supreme Court, this girl power song got a nod from the first lady.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS FOR MY GIRLS")

Visiting the set of a historical drama can be a surreal experience, and Underground was no exception.

As the Louisiana sun beat down on an actual historical plantation near Baton Rouge last July, director Kate Woods oversaw a scene where an adorable small boy — actor Maceo Smedley — is picking cotton.

"Could someone go and put more blood on his hands?" she shouted.

As if there's not enough controversy over the Oscars, there's also the matter of a curse.

For some, photography is a vocation. For Catherine Opie, it's also a social liability.

"Staring at people's faces is a problem with me," the artist admits. "I mean, my wife is constantly saying, 'You're staring at that person.' And I'm just like, 'I'm really sorry. I'm making a picture.' And I do like to stare."

"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.

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