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.

Editor's note: This story contains language that may be offensive.

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.

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."

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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One thousand years of Native American women's art is currently traveling around the country, being featured at major museums.

"The whole idea to wipe us off the face of the Earth didn't work," says Anita Fields, an Osage artist in the show. "So we're still very powerfully here."

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.

We've been telling stories about pandemics for a very long time. From an eighth century BCE poem about a Babylonian plague god to the Old Testament's ten plagues of Egypt to, well, the AMC megahit zombie show The Walking Dead, now in its tenth season.

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