Arts and culture

In their book published this month, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, journalists John Donvan and Caren Zucker delve into the history of the good and bad intentions, sometimes wrongheaded science and shifting definitions that can cloud our understanding of what has come to be called the autism spectrum.

In January 2015, at a private conference in Palm Springs, Calif., the political network led by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch announced plans to spend $889 million in the 2016 elections. The organization consists almost entirely of groups that don't register under the campaign finance laws and therefore don't publicly identify their donors.

Editor's note: It's National Popcorn Day! We're celebrating by bringing back this tale, first published in 2014, about the history of the beloved snack.

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With the historic nuclear deal finally taking effect, a sanctions-free Iran can now get back to doing what it has excelled at for centuries: trade.

Because of Iran's strategic position on the Silk Road, that ancient highway that snaked from China to Europe, the caravans of tea, spice and silk passing through it also carried a weightless but imperishable cargo to foreign shores: Persian culture.

"I am an academy member and it doesn't reflect me," actor David Oyelowo said last night, rebuking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for again failing to nominate black performers.

Speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award Gala in Los Angeles, Oyelowo asked those present to pray for the academy's president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, saying she needs their support.

Elizabeth McKenzie's clever, romantic comedy broadcasts quirkiness right on its cover, with its potentially off-putting title and its illustration of a squirrel instead of the interlocked wedding rings you might expect. In the tradition of Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House and Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project, The Portable Veblen is a smart charmer about a brainy off-center couple who face up to their differences — and their difficult, eccentric families — only after they become engaged. Although plenty whimsical — the squirrel has opinions!

Winnie-the-Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood is based on a real forest in the English countryside. NPR's Ari Shapiro visits Ashdown Forest with Kathryn Aalto, author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh. (This story originally aired on All Things Considered on Oct. 26, 2015.)

After a torrent of criticism, Scholastic has decided to stop distributing A Birthday Cake for George Washington, a picture book about one of George Washington's slaves.

The historical book tells the story of Hercules, a slave used by the president as his chef. It shows Hercules and his daughter Delia happy and taking pride in making Washington a birthday cake.

Almost as soon as the book was released, it received withering criticism for whitewashing the history of slavery.

Updated on Jan. 27 to add video of speech:

When she was in fifth grade, Regina Mason received a school assignment that would change her life: to connect with her country of origin. That night, she went home and asked her mother where they were from.

"She told me about her grandfather who was a former slave," Mason tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And that blew me away, because I'm thinking, 'Slavery was like biblical times. It wasn't just a few generations removed.' "

There's a new deli in rural Maine with a hotshot chef behind the counter. Foodies may know Matthew Secich's name from stints and stars earned at Charlie Trotter's, The Oval Room in Washington, D.C., and The Alpenhof Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Recently, Secich joined an Amish community and moved his family and his kitchen off the grid.

His new spot, Charcuterie, is a converted cabin tucked away in a pine forest in Unity, Maine, population 2,000. You have to drive down a long, snowy track to get there, and you can smell the smokehouse before you can see it.

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At the end of December, as the world cleaned up wrapping paper and pine needles and prepared to say good-bye to 2015, the romance community had its own bittersweet celebration: Kristan Higgins released Anything For You, the fifth and final title in her excellent and wildly popular Blue Heron series.

'The Crooked House' Is Haunted, In A World That Denies Ghosts

Jan 17, 2016

On a freezing June night, fourteen-year-old Esme Grace huddles in her upper-floor bedroom as a shotgun's blast reverberates over and over in the bowels of her family's lopsided, isolated house. Afterwards, her three siblings and mother lie dead; her father alive but damaged beyond speech and thought by a seemingly self-imposed gunshot wound; Esme herself is physically unharmed but covered in her family's blood. Soon after, her estranged aunt flies to her side, bundles her up, and takes her away from the tiny marsh village where her world has come apart.

Belgian playwright Ismaël Saïdi says he didn't choose the title of his latest work, Djihad (the French spelling of "jihad"), just to provoke people.

But he doesn't mind if it does.

"As an artist," Saïdi says, "it was important for me to say that we can use any word" — regardless of whether it is sacred for some.

As a leading Muslim voice advocating integration in a city that produced several perpetrators of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks, Saïdi knew exactly what he was doing.

As shocking as the title may seem, the play is a comedy.

The Sesame Street of your childhood has changed. Elmo has moved into a new apartment, Big Bird has a new nest and Oscar the Grouch is hanging out in recycling and compost bins, alongside his usual trash can.

But the biggest change may be how you watch Sesame Street. The 46th season of the classic children's show premieres Saturday on HBO, the subscription-based network that's home to provocative shows like Game of Thrones and Girls. New episodes of Sesame Street will air on its traditional home, PBS, nine months later.

She can sing, she can dance, she can act. She can even handle her own on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Actress Sutton Foster, a two-time Tony Award winner, has been performing since she was a teenager when she first competed on Star Search. She has starred in musicals on Broadway and is now starring in the TV Land series Younger.

Since she is so familiar with the Tony Awards, we invited her to answer questions about other Tonys ... or Anthonys.

The Glory of the World is a new play that celebrates author and Catholic monk Thomas Merton — but it isn't really about Merton. "Everybody is far more complicated than that one simple line about being a great mystic, a great Buddhist, a great activist, whatever," says playwright Charles Mee. And that's exactly what Mee's characters discuss.

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A quartet of siblings and assorted spouses, lovers and friends all spend a holiday in the English family summer house they'll have to sell. Do you think everything will go just swell for those three weeks? Or will tensions simmer, and secrets break out of storage as quarrels, tears and fatal attractions roil the old house in the summer heat? Tessa Hadley's novel The Past has already been praised in Britain, and now it's out in the U.S. She tells NPR's Scott Simon that she loves to set stories in old houses. "A house is like a metaphor.

'Hunters' Is A Dark, Elegant Tale Of East And West

Jan 16, 2016

There's a familiar kind of book. A white man — specifically a Briton — in Asia. You can already sense him; aloof, condescending, assured. The world is his playground and he's out to play. That kind of book has already been written.

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For the second year in a row, no non-white actor was among the 20 acting nominations for the Academy Awards. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks about the awards and Hollywood's struggles with diversity with Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

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Anders Kvernberg was deep in the vaults of the National Library of Norway when a beautiful atlas caught his eye.

So, you know. "It was an ordinary day at work," he says.

As a reference librarian, Kvernberg spends his days digging through the library's collections to answer questions from the public — on absolutely any topic. Writing a history book and want to know when a train would run from city A to city B on a particular year? "We find the old timetables," he says.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.


Sitting down to talk about a Quentin Tarantino movie — particularly in his modern incarnation in which he puts all kinds of gnarly material on the screen that wrestles, with varying degrees of success, with aspects of identity and politics and identity politics, not to mention history, sociology, and (perhaps most enthusiastically) film and filmmaking. This week, we sat down with Chris Klimek to talk about The Hateful Eight, Tarantino's latest, which finds a collection of folks — tense ones, to say the least — waiting out a blizzard together. There's a lot to unpack.

Investigative reporter Dawn Anahid MacKeen's latest story is one her mother always wanted her to tell. It's about her grandfather and how he survived the 1915 Armenian genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians living in modern-day Turkey were killed. (Turkey doesn't recognize the slaughter as a genocide, but says they were the result of widespread conflict across the region.) In journals that became the seeds of MacKeen's new book, The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey, her grandfather told the story of how he escaped a forced march through the desert.