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Margaret Drabble's new novel The Dark Flood Rises opens with its protagonist, Francesca Stubbs, tensely driving her Peugeot on an English highway. Fran is an expert on housing for senior citizens; she's herself in her seventies, and lately, she's been obsessed with mortality. Here's the first sentence of the novel: "She has often suspected that her last words to herself and in this world will prove to be 'You bloody old fool' or, perhaps, depending on the mood of the day or the time of the night, 'you ...

Following the introduction of two bills into the state Legislature that would legally prohibit transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identities, 142 artists — including Ewan McGregor, Amy Poehler, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae, Talib Kweli, Wilco and Whoopi Goldberg — have co-signed a letter beseeching the state senators and representatives to prevent the bills' passage.

The musician and multimedia artist has co-created an immersive experience designed to make people aware of their implicit biases. It's called "The Institute Presents: Neurosociety."

Read the full story at KQED.

The late James Baldwin was one of the most influential African-American writers to emerge during the civil rights era. During the late 1950s and 1960s, he traveled through the South and addressed racial issues head on.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that parsing the broader implications of The Bachelor/Bachelorette can feel an awful lot like examining the semiotics of mashed potato flakes. But can we not also agree that the fact that a narrative is ridiculous and phony doesn't mean it isn't both reflective of and influential upon the culture out of which it grows?

Even before cracking Bill Hayes' mixed-media memoir, you know it's going to be special: This is the man who enabled neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks to do what a lifetime of therapy hadn't — connect intimately and openly with another man, ending three and a half decades of celibacy. Sacks finally came out about his thwarted sexuality and joyful late awakening in his memoir, On the Move, which was published just a few months before his death from cancer in 2015. Insomniac City is Hayes' valentine to Sacks, New York City, and life itself.

It's Valentine's Day, which means it's time of year to revel in the outward displays of love — be it flowers, chocolates, or wine. It's also the time of year when romance novelists are suddenly in hot demand for our expertise on dramatic displays of affection, the perfect romantic evening out ... or what to read for a delicious night in.

No snark or anti-commercialism rantings here, just a dose of simple sweetness. We asked readers to share their most memorable Valentine's Day cards; here are a few of our favorites, edited for length and clarity. And we asked NPR illustrator Chelsea Beck to re-create two valentines that live on only in their recipients' memories.


Renae Quinn, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

A heart-shaped box of chocolate is a sign of love, a symbol — and often tool — of romance, and an intrinsic part of Valentine's Day.

From at least the time of the Aztecs, chocolate has been seen as an aphrodisiac. So it's reasonable to assume that it has been connected to love's dedicated day of celebration for many centuries. But, that isn't the case.

We hadn't planned to visit William Faulkner's home on our visit to Mississippi. We didn't think we had enough time. But really, the temptation was too great: It seemed sacrilegious to leave Oxford without making even a brief pilgrimage.

So before we headed out to the Mississippi Delta, we stopped by Rowan Oak, the stately antebellum mansion Faulkner bought for $6,000 in 1930. He had just published The Sound and the Fury.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The image that won the 2017 World Press Photo of the Year award was described by one jury member as the "face of hatred."

It shows a shouting, suit-clad gunman standing in an art gallery in Turkey's capital, one hand holding a weapon, the other pointing to the sky. On the ground next to him is the crumpled body of his victim, Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov.

Neil Gaiman was 6 years old when he first met the Norse god Thor — although he wasn't the red-bearded hammer-slinger of legend. "Marvel. Marvel's Thor came first," he says. "I was reading the reprints of Marvel's Thor in an English comic called Fantastic. ... Dr. Don Blake found this stick in a cave, banged it down and transformed into Thor, and the stick transformed into the hammer." Gaiman says he spent a lot of his first decade looking for likely sticks, "just on the off chance that they might the Thor stick, and might transform into a mighty hammer.

For Dan Barber, the celebrated chef of the New York City restaurant Blue Hill, each course of a meal is an opportunity to tell a story. One of these stories is about a pepper — an aromatic, orange habanero without any heat.

When greeting card designer Emily McDowell had cancer, she got a lot of cards that just felt weird. "A get-well-soon card is kind of strange if you might not," she tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

So McDowell started writing nontraditional sympathy cards. They say things like "Please let me be the first person to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. I'm sorry you're going through this."

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

Al Jarreau, a versatile vocalist who defied categorization for decades, died Sunday morning at the age of 76. Earlier this week, Jarreau had been hospitalized in Los Angeles "due to exhaustion," according to his official Facebook page.

Reading The Game: The Flame In The Flood

Feb 12, 2017

For years now, some of the best, wildest, most moving or revealing stories we've been telling ourselves have come not from books, movies or TV, but from video games. So we're running an occasional series, Reading The Game, in which we take a look at some of these games from a literary perspective.

Let me tell you about the first time I died.

Remember when 1992 was the Year of the Woman? Yeah, that was a thing, although ever-intrepid Sen. Barbara Mikulski shrugged it off at the time, saying, "Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We're not a fad, a fancy, or a year."

For decades, the two strong-willed women in Yewande Omotoso's new novel were committed enemies. Hortensia is black, Marion is white and both are widows in their 80s. Their properties — in an affluent neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa — sit next door to one another. Then, one day, an accident brings them together.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'S "OVERTURE - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA")

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This past week, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber hit a milestone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'S "OVERTURE - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA")

Marvin Lemus hated the skin he was in when, as a child, he didn't see himself represented on TV or in the movies. So when he was 8 years old, he decided to become a filmmaker.

Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

We planned to have Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO's Girls, as our Not My Job guest this week, but a snowstorm kept her from joining us at the last minute, so we quickly had to find someone without Thursday evening plans.

Late Show host Stephen Colbert very graciously jumped in to play our game, but we didn't have time to write new questions for him, so we'll just ask him all the questions we planned to ask Dunham.

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

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

For decades, there have been exactly 40 Broadway theaters all between 41st and 65th Streets in Manhattan. Tonight, a new theater opens that also happens to be the oldest. Are you confused? No one better than Jeff Lunden to clear it up.

A man named Christopher disappears in Greece. His estranged wife, the narrator, goes to find him. A Separation has several separations: the marital separation, the separation between the narrator and her public self, and between herself and the world around her, which she keeps at a careful distance.

Horror Tropes And Human Sadness In 'Universal Harvester'

Feb 11, 2017

You may have noticed that mothers don't do so well in literature – stories both classic and contemporary tend to bump them off. Critics and scholars tie themselves in knots trying to identify the cultural significance of the missing-mother trope, which is pervasive and shows no signs of letting up.

George Saunders is acclaimed as a genius of the short story — and now he's written his first novel. It reads as part Our Town, part ghost story, and even part Ken Burns. It's a story that gives voice to a child who has died, and resonance to the silence of his father, who is enveloped by — and the instrument of — much grief.

On New Year's Eve, 2006, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee developed a splitting headache. She was 33, and her world turned upside down — as in, she literally saw the world upside down. Suddenly, she could hold things in her mind for only 15 minutes at a time. She was a writer who now couldn't recall words or craft sentences. She remembers looking at the phone and thinking to herself: What is the phone number for 911? Days later, she learned she'd had a stroke.

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