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Arts and culture

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One of the ingredients a successful Broadway show needs is a talented cast. That starts with talented casting directors, the people who can see a Tony-winning star in the making, say, when a performer walks into an audition as a college student named Audra McDonald.

Acclaimed Poet John Ashbery Dies At 90

Sep 4, 2017

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Updated at 8:20 p.m. ET

John Ashbery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for his surrealist, confounding works, has died at age 90.

The poet died of natural causes in his Hudson, N.Y., home early Sunday, confirms Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the publicist for a new Ashbery biography.

Last week British actor Ed Skrein, who is white, made news for quitting a project where he was cast as an Asian-American character in the reboot of the comic film Hellboy. Skrein's decision is the latest addition to an ongoing conversation about "whitewashing." Audiences as well as performers have started to challenge the casting of white performers as non-white ethnic characters.

Maya Rodale is a bestselling romance author.

Poems For Houston

Sep 3, 2017

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In his debut novel, The World of Tomorrow, Brendan Mathews portrays America as a land of possibility and redemption. "I wanted to write a book that was full of immigrants and dreamers and strivers," he says. "People who come to America or to New York specifically in pursuit of something — they all want something better, something different.

'Sourdough' Rises Like A Good Loaf

Sep 3, 2017

Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.

Think of it like Candide without the pirates. And set in San Francisco.

Wait, that's not quite right.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg had a friend who liked to draw people with animal heads, so he did what anyone would do: He created an animated TV show about a washed-up '90s sitcom star who happens to be a horse, sold it to Netflix, and now BoJack Horseman is so successful it's been banned in China. The fourth season debuts September 8.

We've invited Bob-Waksberg to answer three questions about centaurs.

Nathan Englander's latest novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, is set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It winds together the stories of a prisoner, a guard, mothers, sons, spies, statesmen, traitors and lovers. Sometimes they're even the same person.

"I call this novel sort of like a turducken of a novel," Englander tells NPR. "It's like a political thriller that's wrapped up in a historical novel that's really a love story that ends up being an allegory."

A Houston Drag Queen Talks Fundraising

Sep 2, 2017

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Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, video games, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic at Philadelphia magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.

Comedian Shelley Berman has died. According to his publicist, Glenn Schwartz, Berman died early Friday morning at his home in Bell Canyon, Calif. He was 92 and had Alzheimer's disease.

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Maria Luisa is 12 years old. Her parents are divorced, and her mom just got a job at a new city. Things are not looking good. So Malu - that's the shortened version of her name, the version she prefers - puts on her headphones.

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There's a film hitting theaters this weekend you may not have heard anything about. It's called Tulip Fever, a period romantic thriller starring Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench and Dane DeHaan, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard.

Encore

Sep 1, 2017

With the help of the Ask Me Another audience, house musician Jonathan Coulton leads a music game that turns Queen's classic We Will Rock You into an ode to famous rocks. Then contestants compete in a ménage à trois-themed final round.

Heard On AMA Favorites: Sex, Drugs, And Rock 'N' Roll Edition

Headliner

Sep 1, 2017

Ophira Eisenberg talks to sex columnist Dan Savage at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, then contestants play a round of This, That, or the Other featuring prescription drugs, Harry Potter spells, and Ikea products.

Heard On AMA Favorites: Sex, Drugs, And Rock 'N' Roll Edition

Opening Act

Sep 1, 2017

This first game plays on the slang term "Netflix and Chill," where every answer rhymes with the word "chill." Then, just try to forget this mother father next game where contestants identify the movie based on the redubbed swear word.

Heard On AMA Favorites: Sex, Drugs, And Rock 'N' Roll Edition

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The manipulative British filmmaker seems to have come to the right place. Fresh from her own bitter breakup, Vivian (Dolly Wells) arrives in Florida in search of couples who are about to split. She has an assistant/cameraperson, Mel (Connie Shin), and a thesis: Marriage should last for only seven years, with an option to renew.

At my all-girls high school in London in the 1960s, colonial history was taught roughly as follows: "In 1947 India was granted independence from Great Britain. Civil strife continued between Hindus and Muslims in the new nations of India and Pakistan. And now, gehls, back to the Gardens of Tudor England."

Take a good long look at the state flag of Nebraska, everyone.

Mark well its concentric circles crowded with golden text, its deep blue background, its central scene busy with contrasting colors. Then, reflect on this crucial question: Would you even be able to tell the difference if it were flying upside-down?

Apparently state lawmakers couldn't. In fact, for a span of 10 days earlier this year, not a single visitor to the Nebraska Capitol noticed that the flag had been hoisted upside down — not even state Sen. Burke Harr, who related the story in January.

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Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Leila Day and Hana Baba are not afraid to go there in their new podcast. It's called The Stoop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: The stoop.

The past 10 years have seen a parade of sexually damaged Girls in fiction — and by girls, of course, I mean women in their 20s and 30s. After Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and all the other creatively abused women, you could be forgiven for thinking Claire Messud's The Burning Girl is another would-be best-seller about gendered violence and retribution.

For writer Jesmyn Ward, Mississippi is a place she loves and hates all at once.

She grew up and still lives in the tiny town of DeLisle, Miss., close by the Gulf Coast, where, she writes, African-American families like hers are "pinioned beneath poverty and history and racism."

It's a pair of rites we see often at the passing of great authors: first, the tributes from those who loved their books; then, the good-faith effort to find their unfinished works and shepherd them to the bookshelves they never would have found otherwise.

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Stevie Wonder comes prepared for an interview.

STEVIE WONDER: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WONDER: (Vocalizing, singing) Wheel of '84.

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