Arts

Arts and culture

Every writer knows the paralyzing terror of the blank page. For poet Tess Taylor, the antidote to fear came through farming.

Taylor is the author of Work & Days, a new volume of poetry inspired by her year spent working on a farm in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. She was there living alone in a cabin as part of a writer's residency, finishing her first book of verse, and "had nothing to do but write," she says. "The idea of facing the blank page for that much time really scared me."

In the "Prologue" to her 2012 autobiography, Country Girl, Edna O'Brien tells readers about being tested for deafness a few years ago at a National Health clinic in London where she lives.

O'Brien was told by the technician there that in terms of her hearing, "she's a broken piano." That dismissive phrase haunted O'Brien and, somewhat in defiance, she wrote what turned out to be a spectacular memoir.

Growing up, comics Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz never dreamed that they would one day co-star in a sketch-comedy series about two women in Brooklyn.

The 'Regional Office' Doesn't Quite Deliver

Apr 12, 2016

"The evil undead, alien creatures threatening mass annihilation, and superpowered evil masterminds." So goes the list of threats the Regional Office — the top secret organization at the heart of The Regional Office Is Under Attack! — battles on a regular basis. Or at least that's what the beginning of the book would lead you to believe.

Many people know Make Way for Ducklings, but they might not know the lengths to which Robert McCloskey went to get the beloved Mallard family to look just right.

Having already written much of the text, McCloskey was feeling stuck, explains his daughter Sal McCloskey. (Sal's all grown up now, but you may remember her from one of McCloskey's other books, Blueberries for Sal.)

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The Holy Bible, along with several other books that incorporate aspects of religion, made the American Library Association's list of top-10 most challenged books in 2015.

For Kafka, Even Beer Came With Baggage

Apr 11, 2016

Franz Kafka wrote powerful stories about the powerless — and to make them frightening, he made them funny. Many of his darkest comedies, including the famous one about a salesman metamorphosing into a bug, appear to be rooted in the cowering, but deeply farcical, relationship he had with his domineering father, Hermann.

But if there was a sparkling boyhood memory that Kafka cherished — and recalled as he lay dying of tuberculosis in a sanatarium near Vienna — it was one involving that primal bonding ritual between father and son: sharing a beer.

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

Beverly Cleary has sold 85 million copies of 41 books and — if those numbers weren't impressive enough — she turns 100 on Tuesday. Though the world was a very different place when Cleary was a child, she has always maintained that kids pretty much stay the same — which explains the ongoing popularity of her beloved characters, like Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins and Ralph S. Mouse.

Chatter about Catastrophe, a series that airs on regular TV in the UK and streams on Amazon in the US, often concentrates on how gleefully frank and filthy it is. Written by its stars, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, the show follows a American man and an Irish (sorry! originally said "British"; I'm a distracted American) woman whose fling leads to a pregnancy, then a marriage and a love affair, in that order.

Los Angeles is a city of extremes: There are neighborhoods so luxurious only millionaires can afford them and neighborhoods so poor that residents work several jobs to pay the rent. Now, a young LA painter is bringing these neighborhoods together on his canvases.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Years ago, in a Brooklyn high school, a door slammed. Christopher Emdin, then a 10th-grader, immediately ducked under his desk. His math teacher accused him of being a clown and sent him to the principal's office.

Emdin wasn't being a clown.

A couple of days before, there had been a shooting just outside his apartment building. He thought the slamming door was a gun shot. His jump for cover was instinctual.

Before cellphone cameras and Instagram, there was Polaroid. That funky-looking camera took hold as a social phenomenon nearly as quickly as the little, instant photographs they brought to life.

For portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, Polaroid has meant something more. For the past 25 years, from her studio in Cambridge, Mass., Dorfman has photographed thousands of intimate moments — from anonymous families to illustrious figures like Julia Child and Errol Morris.

In 1913, the 21-year-old Ronald Tolkien should have been studying for his exams. He was halfway through his Classics degree — the subject all the best students did at Oxford in those days. Getting admitted to Oxford on a scholarship was a great opportunity for young Ronald, an orphan who had always struggled to stay out of poverty. A Classics degree would have set him up for almost any career he chose. But he wasn't studying. Instead, he was trying to teach himself Finnish.

In 1964, two guys walked into a movie studio. One of them was Buster Keaton, a silent film master of physical comedy, and the other was Samuel Beckett, a master of cerebral literature. They were there to make a movie together, and now a new movie tells the story of their unlikely collaboration.

#NPRpoetry Moment: Poem Of The Potato

Apr 9, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Our guests this week, Jonathan and Drew Scott, aka The Property Brothers, have an HGTV show in which they help people renovate and style their dream homes. (They're joining us by phone because if they saw the way we decorate it would actually kill them.)

Since the Scotts fix up homes for a living, we've invited them to play a game called "Have I got a match for you!" Three questions about matchmakers — people who fix up people.

The Broadway musical that's set during a revolution may have set off a revolution of its own, too. Right now, Hamilton is the hardest ticket to get on Broadway. It's been called a once-in-a-generation experience. But it's safe to say the unconventional smash wasn't always a sure thing.

The Grammy-winning show portrays the life of Alexander Hamilton, a founder of the United States who was once a poor, orphaned boy "dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot of the Caribbean" — and it does so in the rhymes and music of hip-hop and pop.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Millions of Americans recharge their phones, screens and laptops before they go to bed at night, but do they recharge themselves?

Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor in chief of The Huffington Post, says we are in the midst of a sleep-deprivation crisis that creates anxiety, as well as exhaustion, depression, a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents — and overall sleep-deprived stupidity. NPR's Scott Simon talked with her about her new book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

'Every Heart' Is A Doorway To Winning Fantasy

Apr 9, 2016

Seanan McGuire's award-winning novels and short stories have been testing the parameters of genre fiction for years now, but always with a deep love of horror and fantasy. That hasn't changed in her new novella, Every Heart a Doorway. Rather, she's doubled down — and in half the number of pages. Tight and tautly told, Every Heart grabs one of speculative fiction's most enduring tropes — the portal fantasy, where a person slips from the real world into a magical realm somewhere beyond — and wrings it for all the poignancy, dark humor, and head-spinning twists it can get.

Hunting down that obscure Vietnamese place that serves up bánh bao exactly like you'd find in Hanoi, or an Indian joint with dal just like the one you had on that trip to New Delhi, is a not uncommon pursuit in these food-obsessed days. But our culinary hunt for "authentic ethnic" food can be a double-edged sword, says Krishnendu Ray.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

A man's wife dies in a car crash. The man grieves.

From that simple premise come two complex films: Louder Than Bombs and Demolition. Turns out, there's a reason for those explosive titles.

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

I hadn't been in Japan more than a few weeks before I was hooked on Japanese karē raisu, or curry rice. It was the rich, unmistakable smell that seeped under doorways and filled the undercover shopping markets of Osaka that first caught my attention.

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