NPR Staff

In the 1970s, Mary Shepherd parked her home (a van) on a street in an artsy London neighborhood. She was cranky, religious, profane and indomitable, and the neighbors muttered about her — but some also brought her gifts. One neighbor, playwright Alan Bennett, took a particular interest in Shepherd and invited her to move her van into his driveway. She stayed there for 15 years.

A new film, The Lady in the Van, tells Shepherd's story. It was adapted from Bennett's memoir and play about his guest, and it stars Alex Jennings as Bennett and Maggie Smith as Shepherd.

Christopher Buckley's new novel is a historical heist caper, the story of a scam: An attempt to counterfeit the Shroud of Turin, believed by some to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus himself never said, "Talk about chutzpah!"

The 16th-century Holy Roman schemers include Dismas, a former mercenary who now deals in religious relics, from foreskins to fingerbones, and Albrecht Dürer, the real life artist and engraver. It's a road story, of a kind, that brings the duo to into contact with brothels, damsels, foreplay and swordplay.

How do you make a subject as complicated as the subprime mortgage crisis into a really good movie? That's the challenge director Adam McKay took on when decided to turn The Big Short, Michael Lewis' best-selling book about the people who profited from the crisis, into a film. The result (also called The Big Short) has bad guys and heroes — but even the heroes are kind of jerks.

"She had red hair — it was red hair out of a bottle, but it was still red hair. And she was a spitfire," Chloe Longfellow begins. "If you messed with her and she didn't think it was right, she would tell you."

Longfellow is speaking here of her grandmother, Doris Louise Rolison, on a recent visit to StoryCorps. When Longfellow was just a child, her father died and her mother took up multiple jobs in order to support the family. That left Longfellow with a lot of time to spend at her grandparents' house in Arizona.

Clare Vaye Watkins is an acclaimed writer: Her debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus, is a sharp post-apocalyptic tale of drought and survival that won critical raves. And she recently published an essay about how, for all her success, she felt that she wasn't herself on the page, that she was changing her writing to appeal to male readers and critics. She called it "On Pandering."

For Molly Crabapple, art is a tool for action.

She has illustrated court proceedings at Guantanamo and documented the war in Syria with her pen and paper. Her work has been featured in Vanity Fair and The New York Times, and she's a columnist for Vice.

In her new memoir, Drawing Blood, she describes growing up in New York City and working her way through art school as a "naked girl for hire," as she puts it, posing for art classes and acting in music videos.

What you think is funny and what you think is downright offensive says a lot about you.

In this episode of Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam explores why some of us think, say, jokes about nut allergies are hilarious, while others are already crafting angry emails to NPR.

Gender, race, cancer, your mom—these are touchy subjects, but also ones that garner big laughs. Why? Comedian Margaret Cho explains it this way: "You're laughing because someone is actually playing with fire, and this may erupt into something incredibly explosive."

Children's personal information isn't supposed to be an online commodity. But whether kids are using Google apps at school or Internet-connected toys at home, they're generating a stream of data about themselves. And some advocates say that information can be collected too easily and sometimes, protected too poorly.

The ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip has damaged hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, leaving major gaps in health care.

Children with cancer, in particular, struggle to get the proper treatment they need. They often have to travel to Israel or much farther.

So one American nonprofit — called the Palestine Children's Relief Fund — aims to change that. The PCRF is building a large new pediatric cancer center in Gaza.

The former president is remembered for progressive views on the state, but his views on race were decidedly regressive. With his legacy at Princeton now disputed, Brian Balogh and Peter Onuf, historians and co-hosts of the public radio show BackStory, weigh Wilson's complex history.

Wayne Horvitz is one of those musicians who does almost everything — from leading a small group of improvisers to conducting a big band, and from composing for symphony orchestra to running a nightclub. The Seattle-based keyboard player turned 60 this year, and he's celebrating by adding even more to his schedule: playing birthday concerts on both coasts.

The Pentagon has been debating the role of women in combat for generations. Women began serving in the military in support positions, far from the actual fighting. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan essentially erased ideas of front lines — and even if women weren't allowed in combat, technically, they were anyway.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made the shift official.

The attack in San Bernardino that left 16 people dead, including the shooters, came just five days after the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

When U.S. soldiers and Marines returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, many left behind local translators who they'd worked closely with. These people often became the target of reprisals and death threats, forcing them to flee their own country.

For the past few months, Aaron Fleming, a former Marine sergeant, has been trying to help his former translator, Sami Khazikani, make it to the U.S. after he had to leave Afghanistan. Khazikani's now stuck in limbo in Germany waiting to hear if he'll be given asylum in Europe, get a visa to the U.S., or be sent back to Afghanistan.

There are emojis to represent virtually every state of being — including, now, the state of being Finnish. To celebrate the run-up to Christmas, the government of Finland has come up with its own set of emoji that capture the particular nuances of Finnish culture.

"We do kind of a Christmas calendar every year, and we were thinking we want to do something this year that works better on mobile and maybe talks to a little bit of a younger audience," Petra Theman, the director for public diplomacy of Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

The resettling of Syrian refugees in the U.S. has become a political and religious flashpoint. On Friday, for instance, Texas dropped its request for a federal court to immediately block Syrian refugees from entering the state. A Syrian family, including two young children, is now expected to arrive in Dallas on Monday.

Much is still being learned about the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., but one thing was clear very early on: how the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, stood on the attack.

The Muslim community group called a press conference almost immediately after Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik were named as suspects.

Farook's brother-in-law appeared at the conference, and a CAIR official, speaking on behalf of the local Muslim community, deplored the shooting.

In Courtney Banks' apartment in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood, Michelle Saenz opens a laptop.

Banks' youngest child, 18-month-old son, Rasean Wright, squirms and flops on his mother's lap.

He's why Saenz is here: to help Banks talk to her son, to build the little boy's brain.

She is part of a project called the Thirty Million Words Initiative, developed at the University of Chicago after researchers found that children in poor households often hear fewer words spoken to them than youngsters in more comfortable families.

The most popular sport in America causes head trauma. Some of its most famous players have been convicted of domestic abuse, and the game's most glamorous star has been accused of defying the rules with deflated balls.

Sounds like quite a marketing plan, doesn't it?

A Confederacy of Dunces has been called a love letter to New Orleans and hailed as a modern comedic classic. Now, a new cookbook looks at the food and culture that help define the characters in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

Set in New Orleans in the 1960s, the novel centers around Ignatius J. Reilly, an over-educated, rotund 30-year-old who lives with his mother in a tiny house and goes about ranting against the modern world while selling hot dogs from his pushcart.

John Graziano, a second-grader in 1986, was diagnosed with HIV in a Chicago suburb called Wilmette. He had contracted the disease from his biological mother, but he had been adopted by the Graziano family.

"John was one of the first children in the state of Illinois to be diagnosed as HIV-positive," his adoptive father, Tom, remembers. Tom Graziano recently spoke with John's elementary school principal, Paul Nilsen, on a visit with StoryCorps.

"If I'm allowed to have a favorite forger, which I know sounds a little bit funny, it would be Eric Hebborn, who's really the prince of art forgers," Noah Charney says. "He's the only one of over sixty that I look at in my book who I think is at the same level as the artists he forged."

This week on Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam explores how we tell real from fake, when it comes to fine art and fine wine. As Noah Charney, author of The Art of Forgery explains, the primary motivation for many of the forgers he studied is not money, but revenge.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on bus in Montgomery, Ala. — and changed the course of history.

Her action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would eventually lead to the end of legally segregated public transportation.

And for many Americans, Parks is the civil rights icon they love to love: the unassuming seamstress who, supposedly, just got tired one day and unwittingly launched the modern civil rights movement.

There's a common misconception that science is purely about cold, hard facts — concrete evidence, mathematical models and replicable experiments to explain the world around us.

It's easy to forget that there are people behind the data and equations. And when people are involved, there is always room for human error.

Still several weeks out, the hype is already hitting enormous heights for the new Star Wars installment. The Force Awakens has sold more than $50 million in tickets — and the movie doesn't even open until Dec. 18.

Every time a violent attack is carried out in the name of Islam, as happened in Paris, Muslims in this country often feel pressure to speak out, to say how extremists have nothing to do with their faith.

We turned to Muslim Americans, who came of age after Sept. 11, to understand how they have managed that kind of pressure, and how it affects their lives and their faith.

As part of a series called My Big Break, All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Tim Gunn is famous for his catchphrase — "Make it work!" — his snazzy outfits and his calm, can-do attitude. As a mentor to designers on Project Runway, his unflappable demeanor soothes many a stressed-out contestant.

But Gunn wasn't always so self-possessed.

In 1984, Prince was on top of the world, with a No. 1 album and later a No. 1 movie, both named Purple Rain.

Little did Prince know then how widely his projects' influence would spread, or the ways in which they might translate — literally. Three decades after the film first premiered, it got a remake filmed in Niger, featuring members of a nomadic group of people known as the Tuareg.

It may be the most sensational court case in Britain since the Great Train Robbers went on trial in 1964.

Jurors in London have been hearing evidence against four men who are accused of stealing cash and jewelry worth 14 million pounds — about $21 million — from the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd. last April.

Marge Klindera spent decades teaching home economics to kids in Illinois. But in the early 1980s, after she had retired, she was looking for another way to pass along her knowledge.

That's when she decided to join a Thanksgiving call center — where thousands of panicked home cooks call every year, hoping for last-minute guidance in cooking their dinner.

"We like to say we kind of deal with turkey trauma," Klindera, now 79, tells her longtime coworker, Carol Miller, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

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