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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 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.

NPR's first-ever Pulitzer occasioned a round of virtual Champagne corks popping and heartfelt cheers of congratulations across ... well, NPR's corner of cyberspace.

"Congrats to the Pulitzer winners. So deserved!!!!!" wrote Nina Totenberg, who does not dole out exclamation points to just anyone.

Beautiful bronze sculptures and castings from West Africa have long been exhibited in some of the world's most august institutions, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Wednesday it's returning three of these artworks to Nigeria. They include two 16th-century brass plaques created at the Court of Benin, and a brass head produced in Ife around the 14th century.

Billy Ocasio feels like one of the country's luckier museum directors. He runs the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, still standing strong in Chicago after the pandemic wiped out dozens of small museums across the country.

Artist Paul Rucker is fearless when it comes to taking on terrible moments in American history.

"The work that I do evolves mostly around the things I was never taught about," Rucker explains. Over Zoom, he's discussing his work in progress, Three Black Wall Streets, which evokes and honors the achievements of Black entrepreneurs and visionaries who created thriving spaces of possibility and sanctuary after the end of the Civil War.

Updated May 26, 2021 at 7:45 PM ET

Eric Carle's picture books were often about insects. Spiders, lady bugs, crickets and of course, that famous caterpillar, all as colorful and friendly as Carle himself. The Very Hungry Caterpillar — probably Carle's best-known work — came out in 1969 and became one of the bestselling children's books of all time.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Imagine spending most of your life on one creative project.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)

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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The woman best known for the song "I Am Woman" has died. Helen Reddy was 78 years old. She co-wrote and performed the 1972 hit that endures even today as a feminist anthem. Reddy died last night in Los Angeles. NPR's Neda Ulaby has the remembrance.

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Acclaimed singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle has died at the age of 38. He's the son of alt-country star Steve Earle who earned critical acclaim of his own and multiple awards despite struggles with addiction. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

Legendary newspaperman and author Pete Hamill has died at the age of 85 in New York City, his hometown.

"He fell on Saturday and died this morning of heart and kidney failure," his longtime literary agent Esther Newberg told NPR in an email, adding, "One of a kind."

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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