Arts and culture

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Fear old women in fairy tales. For as long as people have been telling stories, crones have been scaring the wits out of children. But why does the face of evil so often belong to an old woman?

Typecasting is one explanation. "What do we have? Nags, witches, evil stepmothers, cannibals, ogres. It's quite dreadful," says Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard. Still, Tatar is quick to point out that old women are also powerful — they're often the ones who can work magic.

In 1966, author A.E. Hotchner published Papa Hemingway, the memoir of his 13-year friendship and many conversations with Ernest Hemingway, who had taken his own life a few years earlier.

The book's publication was contested and controversial — Hemingway's widow, his fourth wife, Mary, went to court to block it. She failed, and the book came out.

If you play today's massively multiplayer online role-playing games — World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy, for example — you have a 1970s tabletop game to thank, says author Michael Witwer.

Witwer has just written a biography of Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

"Even first-person shooters like Call of Duty have some of the roots at least in tabletop role-playing games," he tells NPR's Ari Shapiro.

South by Southwest — the music and interactive media conference that takes place in Austin, Texas, each year — has a controversy on its hands.

Editor's note: There is an offensive word in this post. It's an important part of this discussion.

What goes best with a hot cup of tea? A heaping spoonful of gossip, of course.

Guitarist and singer Carrie Brownstein is known for her defiant, kinetic performances in the band Sleater-Kinney. But she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that it was vulnerability that initially drew her to the music world.

Drake's song "Hotline Bling" — and its related memes — reached an artistic culmination over the weekend, in a video mashup that pairs the catchy song with scenes of a gung-ho drama teacher performing a suite of interpretive dances for his class.

We'll discuss the video more below, but you should just go ahead and watch it for yourself.

"Hotline Bling" quickly became a cultural force last week, inspiring memes, jokes, and conversations with its off-kilter video.

'The Witches' Shows Salem Is In Our Blood

Oct 27, 2015

Our thoroughly modern world can't let go of Salem. The communal madness that gripped a small Massachusetts Bay Colony village in the late 17th century still bedevils us — so to speak — over three centuries later. Stacey Schiff's excellent history The Witches: Salem, 1692, measures our continued fascination with the most literal, and most deadly, witch-hunt in American history.

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Welcome to the third session of the Morning Edition Reads book club! Here's how it works: A well-known writer will pick a book he or she loved. We'll all read it. Then, you'll send us your questions about the book. About a month later, we'll reconvene to talk about the book with the author and the writer who picked it.

WARNING: The column contains numerous spoilers regarding Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead and how it connects to events in the graphic novel. If you wish to remain in the dark — and have somehow avoided the online explosion of fan anguish until now — be warned that this piece will discuss lots of details from Sunday's show.

It was the death some fans of The Walking Dead had been anticipating for a long time. It just didn't come in the way that we expected. If it actually happened at all.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: Ari, look up in the sky.


What? It's a bird.

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We'd like to visit a place that you've likely been before — maybe not in real life, but in your imagination. It's a land that inspired heffalumps and expotitions (yes, that spelling's correct). In real life, it's a forest in southeast England — but you know it as Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood.

The setting is sort of the quintessential English countryside: Rolling hills, trees, squares of farmland, heather and gorse and a perfectly blue sky day — perhaps the only thing that's not very English about the setting.

Gloria Steinem is 81 — a fact that the iconic women's movement leader describes as "quite bizarre."

"Eighty-one is an age that I think is someone else's age," Steinem tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I stop people on the street and tell them how old I am, because I'm trying to make myself believe it."

But Steinem isn't unhappy about aging. The co-founder of Ms. magazine says that as she approached 60, she felt like she entered a new phase in life, free of the "demands of gender" that she faced from adolescence onward.

The company that makes Legos has landed at the center of a social-media firestorm after Chinese artist Ai Weiwei complained that it refused to supply a bulk order of the toy bricks for his art.

Ai said he wanted to use the bricks for an exhibition on free speech at Australia's National Gallery of Victoria. The museum attempted to place an order but was told by the company that it "cannot approve the use of Legos for political works."

"We've been refused, and the reason is Lego will not support political art, which is very frustrating," Ai said in an interview with NPR.

For the pious Puritans of early America, witchcraft was a crime of the highest order.

Back then, the term "witch hunt" was not just an expression: In 1692, 19 women and men were hanged and one pressed to death with stones after being found guilty of witchcraft.

In her book The Witches, author Stacy Schiff follows the buildup of fear and outrageous tales of consorting with the devil. The witch trials were set in motion by two young Salem girls in the grip of strange and disturbing symptoms.

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D.W. Griffith was an American master, whose stirring visuals as a filmmaker overwhelmed the viewers of his time. When he was releasing movies, over 100 years ago, he deployed techniques in editing and camerawork so advanced that they're still used today.

"And he brought it to bear with a hate message — a message of racism," says Dick Lehr, an author and professor at Boston University.

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We all know "password" is no good, and "1234567" is asking for trouble.

But the more we try to strengthen our passwords, the harder we make them to remember.

It's a thoroughly modern problem — but researchers at the University of Southern California have found a very old solution. Instead of passwords, consider the passpoem:

The tiny villagers explore
a speaker company rapport

Eileen Myles has two new books out now, a career-spanning new and selected poems called I Must Be Living Twice and a reissue of her beloved 1994 novel Chelsea Girls. Part of what makes this an event is the fact that this is Myles' first time working with a major publisher, Ecco Press, an imprint of the gargantuan HarperCollins. It's an acknowledgement by the powers that be of what her fans have always known: Myles is a big deal, a rock star, sort of like the Patti Smith of contemporary poetry (Ecco also publishes poems by Patti Smith, but Myles' are better).

In Colin Barrett's collection of short stories Young Skins, the plots teem with characters your parents probably warned you away from. Some are violent, some are addicts and others are just lost — adrift in a gritty world in which they see no chance of escape.

But it's not all bleak.

In the latest installment of the Weekend Reads series, author Tessa Hadley explains why Barrett's book — poised between darkness and light-hearted humor — is worth picking up.

When I was 17, my mother sent me to live with some relatives in South America for a year. I'd been screwing up royally and my antics were becoming difficult for her to manage as a struggling single mother of three. She'd been threatening for a long time to ship me off to Colombia. I never imagined it would happen. But she'd finally had enough, and after many tears and reservations, she followed through on those threats in hopes that I'd return grateful and rehabilitated.

Lewis Carroll's Wonderland is a singular place. It's a place that symbolizes the beauty and strange, illogical nature of childhood; a place that has captivated children and adults for 150 years. This year, the anniversary of Alice in Wonderland has been celebrated in museums, and it's also being marked in literature.

What would you do if a stranger stopped you on the street, asked to take your picture and asked to hear your story?

For the past five years, photographer Brandon Stanton has been doing exactly that — on the streets of New York, no less — and thousands of people have said yes. Stanton has been not only collecting their stories and images, but also sharing them on his blog, Humans of New York.

Film legend Maureen O'Hara — the Irish-American actress whose cascading red hair and sea-green eyes helped make her the "Queen of Technicolor" — has died in her sleep at her home in Boise, Idaho. She was 95.

O'Hara's career spanned more than 60 films, including How Green Was My Valley and the The Quiet Man, the classic 1952 romance directed by John Ford and set in Ireland. Just last year, O'Hara received a Lifetime Honorary Oscar.

Neil deGrasse Tyson — once named the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by People magazine — is about to begin the second season of his National Geographic show Star Talk.

Since he's a famed expert on cosmology, we've decided to see what he knows about cosmetology — three questions about hair stylists and spa experts from around the world.

Ron Nagle is a lot like his ceramics: compact, tidy, quirky — and colorful.

The artist, who has helped take clay to the heights of the contemporary art world, recently sported black pants, a blue-and-white striped T-shirt, white shoes, red socks and a rose-colored hat.

Around his neck hangs a long silver chain, filled with charms. There's a heart, signifying Valentine's day, the date he was married decades ago; an R for his first name; a skull representing death; a hare, Nagle's sign in Chinese astrology.