Arts and culture

Editor's note: This story was originally published in February and has been republished with updates.

Today, everyone respects Arunachalam Muruganantham, 52, a social entrepreneur who lives in the city of Coimbatore in South India. But there was a time, he says, when his neighbors were convinced he had lost his mind. Some even believed that he was a vampire.

"It all started because I wanted to create a good sanitary napkin for my wife," he laughs.

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One of the most famous gothic thrillers has been recast for a new generation.


JOAN FONTAINE: (As Mrs. de Winter) Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

For the last few months, we've been fielding your questions and conundrums in the Help, I'm Hosting! series. As 2018 draws to a close, we decided to go to the ultimate authority on all things home and hosting — Martha Stewart.

New Year's Eve is a time for optimism, Stewart says. It's "the welcoming of a new year, a new season ... hopefully a happier time."

Music was an integral part of life in the home of country music stars Johnny Cash and June Carter — as was Southern cooking.

The Israeli literary giant Amos Oz has died of cancer at the age of 79. At the news of his death, Israel's president hailed Oz as the "glory" of the nation's writers.

Oz was the author of dozens of Hebrew-language novels, novellas, short stories and essays, including his bestselling autobiographical novel, A Tale of Love and Darkness. That work chronicles Oz's life in Israel, from his childhood in Jerusalem through the birth of the Jewish state and its transformation into a modern nation.

Netflix is hungry, and it's got its eye on a juicy slice of interactivity.

As 2019 approaches, most Americans are feeling pretty good about the future.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 60 percent of Americans are optimistic about the world in 2019, compared with just 37 percent whose outlook is less rosy. (That leaves 3 percent of the country as merely ambivalent, if you're counting.)

It's a measurable jump in optimism from 2011, when just 54 percent of the country felt similarly about the coming year.

As hope for a last-minute resolution to the political standoff that has triggered the government shutdown all but evaporates, Smithsonian officials announced Thursday that all of its museums, as well as the National Zoo, will be shuttered on Jan. 2 unless a deal is reached.

"There's no getting around it," Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, told NPR.

Consider the cast of fierce female characters on screen in 2018.

There's a scene in Stan & Ollie when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, a legendary comic duo approaching the end of the line, stare up at a large marquee poster of the new Abbott & Costello vehicle, entitled Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. The year is 1953, nearly two decades since Laurel & Hardy peaked in Hollywood with slapstick classics like Sons of the Desert and Way Out West, and now they're touring through second-rate venues and dodgy flophouses across England.

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Standard caveats (really standard — same as last year!): I don't watch everything. I am behind on many things. That's just the way the world is. So if something you loved isn't here, it is not a rebuke.

The year 2018 was a big one for political nonfiction — including exposés from prominent journalists and tell-alls from former administration officials.

Chef Dominique Crenn has reached the pinnacle of success in the culinary world, at least for Michelin devotees.

Most chefs only dream of getting noticed. Crenn recently was awarded three Michelin stars for her restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. She is the first female chef in the United States to achieve a top ranking.

"We were not seeking it. We don't seek those things. It's what we do with it that matters. It doesn't mean that we are better than others," Crenn says.

In late December, we sometimes talk to people who've had a very big year, but author N.K. Jemisin has had a very big three years. In 2016, she became the first African-American writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel. She went on to win the same prize last year, and again this year, making her the only author ever to win the award in three consecutive years — for her Broken Earth trilogy: The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky.

From inside the overly-lit interior of a 1960s strip mall, software programs and science are helping an urban farm fire up the flavor of fennel fronds and control the size of nasturtium leaves. By carefully monitoring each variable and its impact on the way a plant tastes, looks and grows, Fresh Impact Farms is inching closer to its goal: delivering edible flowers and herbs catered to the taste preferences of top-tier chefs.

When Aaron Sorkin first sat down to write a stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, it didn't go well.

"My first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was terrible," he says. "Really the best thing that you could say about it was that it was harmless — which is not something you want to say about a play."

After bombing as Grace Kelly, Nicole Kidman is currently on a gratifying roll, stealing scenes as a Southern Christian mom awakening to her gay son's plight in Boy Erased, as a deceptively prim PA to a quadriplegic Bryan Cranston in the upcoming The Upside, and in television's Big Little Lies and Top of the Lake. With any luck, Kidman's golden streak has only hit pause with her turn as a rogue cop in Karyn Kusama's dispiriting Destroyer.

Two films open this week with titles that make them sound a lot sexier than they are: On the Basis of Sex and Vice.

They're both biopics — Sex about a liberal Supreme Court justice, Vice a conservative vice president. But they differ in ways that go far deeper than politics.

On The Basis Of Sex

You know exactly what you're getting from the opening moment, when a very young Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) strides into Harvard Law School surrounded by a sea of grey, black, and navy business suits.

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Humorist David Sedaris' annual reading from "Santaland Diaries" has become an NPR institution — it debuted on Morning Edition in 1992 — and for many listeners, hearing from Crumpet the Macy's department store elf each year signals the holiday season as much as mistletoe and candy canes.

This year we asked you to pretend YOU are an elf in Santaland. We wondered what, in one sentence, your imaginary shift is like and what your imaginary elf is named.

How Rodgers And Hammerstein Revolutionized Broadway

Dec 24, 2018

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In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman looks like a hot mess.

In the opening scene, her character, Los Angeles police detective Erin Bell, lumbers out of the car she slept in all night. She's got puffy, red eyes; dull, disheveled hair; no makeup.

Weather-beaten, she hobbles like a wounded animal to a crime scene along the concrete bank of the LA River. The raspy-voiced cop in a black leather jacket peers at a corpse with tattoos.

"What about if I know who did this?" her character asks.

Imagine a world without borders ... and a coloring book without lines. That's the idea behind Coloring Without Borders, a new bilingual kids book, created to help immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Actor Jackie Hoffman grew up hearing Yiddish, but not really speaking it.

"I spoke what my mother calls kitchen Yiddish," Hoffman says — words here and there that she picked up from conversations between her mother and grandmother.

The language had always been a part of her life, but when she landed the part of Yente the matchmaker in a Yiddish-language version of Fiddler on the Roof, she panicked. "It was intimidating," Hoffman admits.

When I was a kid in junior high, I owned a cassette deck, a big brick of a recorder. I'd hide it on a chair at the dinner table, then push the red record button. No one but me knew it was there. Later, I'd listen to what I captured.

One December night in the early 1970s, I happened to record the moment when my younger brother began to doubt whether Santa Claus exists. And for a bit more than six minutes, my mother and father tried to convince him that, yes, Santa Claus is real.

My mom, Sylvia, grew up in Brooklyn; my father, Stanley, grew up in the Bronx.

Amid the partial government shutdown, at least one critical service remains operational: NORAD's Santa tracker.

More than 1,500 military personnel and volunteers at an Air Force base in Colorado will be hard at work Christmas Eve, tracking Santa Claus and answering children's calls.

In America, the boozy drink of Christmastime is buttery, cream-colored eggnog. But throughout the Caribbean, the sip of the season comes in a holiday-appropriate shade of ruby red: sorrel.

Monumental shifts were occurring in America during the time that photographer Hugh Mangum was working in North Carolina and the Virginias. It was the height of the Jim Crow era, when the nation was starting to see laws separating whites from blacks. But as a businessman who needed to support his family, Mangum didn't discriminate between clientele, therefore leaving behind an archive that tells a different story of the segregated South at the turn of the 20th century.