Arts and culture

Critics were aghast, but hobbyists couldn't get enough of it: In the mid-1950s, paint-by-numbers kits were all the rage. Dan Robbins, the artist who helped invent those kits, died at a hospice on Monday in Sylvania, Ohio, at age 93.

After World War II, Robbins was working as a package designer for Palmer Paint Company in Detroit. Company owner Max Klein was looking for a product that would appeal to adult hobbyists, and Robbins remembered something he learned in high school: Leonardo da Vinci's numbering system.

The poet Carolyn Forché was 27 when a stranger showed up on her doorstep, unrolled a giant sheet of paper on her dining room table, and proceeded to give her a masterclass in Central American geopolitics and the crisis unfolding in El Salvador.

"There is soon going to be a war," the man says.

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While developing her film Sleeping with Other People, writer and director Leslye Headland had to storyboard sex scenes for studio executives. "In the script they were very explicit, so everyone was very scared that I was gonna make an NC-17 rom-com," Headland told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another at the Bell House, in Brooklyn, New York. "It's also easier for the actors. We have to do these very intense sex scenes and I want them to feel comfortable." Executives had one unexpected gripe: Why wasn't lead character Lainey smiling in any of the pictures?

Restaurant Scrambles

Apr 5, 2019

Does eating Mexican fast-casual food trigger your allergies and have you reaching for an ITCH POLE? This game is for you. Contestants must guess the popular restaurant chain based on anagrams of their names.

Heard on Greta Lee And Leslye Headland: Valley Of The Russian Dolls.

Anyone up for some... birthday chicken? In this game, Russian Doll actor Greta Lee and co-creator Leslye Headland team up to play a multiple-choice quiz on food trends.

Heard on Greta Lee And Leslye Headland: Valley Of The Russian Dolls.

Breadway Bound

Apr 5, 2019

In this music parody game, we took a classic Broadway musical, changed one letter in the title, and rewrote one of its songs to reflect that change. Not following? Read it slowly—you have to be more Into the Words.

Heard on Greta Lee And Leslye Headland: Valley Of The Russian Dolls.

Chris Ranck sits down with Mark Tyler of the Lower Shore Performing Arts Company to learn about the group and thier new production of the musical Pippin.

People who talk about comics talk a lot about connection. An image, after all, can spark understanding instantaneously, linking the artist's mind with the reader's in a millisecond while mere words — so weighty and awkward by comparison — lumber to catch up. It's no accident that the medium has always been associated with the semi-literate masses and with children; you don't have to learn to read a comic panel to be influenced by the person who drew it.

"Bringing a unicorn here is not an easy or inexpensive endeavor. You have to be the right sort of girl."

The right sort of girl.

From 1991 to 1994, Nirvana was one of the biggest bands in the world with a look and sound that would come to define the decade's music. At the height of this fame, though, bandleader Kurt Cobain sometimes seemed to be an unwilling participant who had just been swept up and carried away by Nirvana's success. Then, after less than four years of meteoric fame, Cobain died of suicide on April 5, 1994. He was 27.

The spaceship hurtling away from Earth is staffed with men and women sprung from death row to aid in a mysterious science experiment. The once-condemned crew believe they've been given a chance to redeem themselves and do one final good deed for humanity. Only later, as their signals to Earth begin to go unanswered and their true mission comes into focus, do they realize they have in fact been condemned twice.

Imagine a political conflagration that pits the impoverished against the elite. A working-class crowd assembles in a town square, calling for higher wages and access to the voting booth. Local authorities, terrified of an insurrection, move to quell the crowd by calling in armed forces. The scene turns violent, leaving about a dozen dead and hundreds injured.

The existence of All Ships Follow Me presents a series of problems.

The book itself is unimpeachably competent; Mieke Eerkens has an impressive pedigree as a writer, and this engrossing debut memoir proves out her training as well as the years of sustained effort she must have undertaken to write it. However, the sheer fact of the book rustles up troubling questions about memory, vengeance, oppression and the privilege to be heard.

Welcome to Delmarva Public Radio’s celebration of National Poetry Month featuring “Literary Biographies with Sue Ellen Thompson.”  I’m your host Harold Wilson. In this series, Sue Ellen Thompson discusses the life and work of three eminent American poets: Robert Frost, Jane Kenyon, and Jack Gilbert.

Ann Beattie is one of the best writers of her generation, although it's unclear whether the author would take that as a compliment. In books like the novel Love Always and the short story collection Where You'll Find Me, Beattie employed her dry wit and sometimes chilly cynicism to paint a less than flattering picture of her fellow baby boomers. The books were never cruel, but they established Beattie as a writer unwilling to act as a cheerleader for her generational cohort.

The art of the law enforcement interrogation has been diminished over the past several years. In media reports, the noun is usually accompanied by adjectives like botched, brutal, forced or enhanced.

The Last Stone, Mark Bowden's account of the interrogation of a suspect in a nearly 40-year-old missing persons case, goes some way to rehabilitating the questioner's craft.

The cultural narrative that's built around films starring DC Comics superheroes over the course of the past decade or so reads thusly: DC films are too dark and dour, and the company should take a cue from Marvel, whose films always leave room for the fun and whimsical elements so crucial to the superhero genre.

The Lehman Trilogy, which opened at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City on March 27, has been produced in France, Germany and Italy. An Italian, Stefano Massini, wrote it; the Englishman Sam Mendes directed it.

And yet the story is quintessentially American. Three Orthodox Jews from Bavaria arrive in New York in the mid-19th century; eventually two of them settle in the very neighborhood where the play is being staged. And over the next decades, they build one of the most influential economic behemoths in the world: Lehman Brothers.

Whether he's investigating such contentious celebs as André the Giant and Andy Kaufman or delving into the mythology of Tetris, Box Brown has a knack for using comics to illuminate tricky subjects.

Author Nathan Englander was raised in an observant Jewish family and now considers himself secular. His stories and novels are full of the kinds of details about Judaism that you can only capture if you've known a community from the inside. His latest book is called, and it's a satire about what separates the doubters from the devout.

Over the course of its four seasons, Rob Delaney wanted Catastrophe — the Amazon series he created with Sharon Horgan — to show a more nuanced portrait of marriage than is typically shown on TV.

"Marriage is interesting — and it's richer, and more majestic, and magnificent, and terrifying than is often portrayed in sitcoms," Delaney says.

Delaney and Horgan co-wrote and co-starred in the show about two people who decide to get married following an unintended pregnancy.

American history, as it exists in the popular imagination, has often tended toward the self-congratulatory.

Events of the past are frequently filtered through a majority lens, focusing on the perceived heroics of, for example, white abolitionists and civil rights activists. To hear some tell it, the civil rights struggle of the 1960s ended when President Lyndon B. Johnson, having indulgently listened to Martin Luther King Jr., signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, after which racism was solved and everything was better forever.

In the classic 1940 novel Native Son, 20-year-old Bigger Thomas dreams of a life beyond his impoverished Chicago neighborhood.

As in the book, the new Native Son movie begins with Bigger killing a huge rat in his house, where he lives with his siblings and their single mother. His troubles accelerate after he gets hired as a driver for the Daltons, a wealthy white family.

In The Undefeated, artist Kadir Nelson illustrates generations of black American heroes "emerging from the shadows."

"It begins with Jesse Owens literally jumping out of the darkness into the light ..." Nelson says. "By the time we get to toward the middle and end of the book those shadows have disappeared and the brilliance and excellence of the subjects have completely emerged into the bright light."

Valerie Jarrett, longtime personal adviser to the Obamas, said in an interview with NPR's Audie Cornish airing Tuesday that former Vice President Joe Biden — who is considering a run for president — "got it right over the weekend when he said it's important that men listen" in response to a recent allegation against him of inappropriate contact.

What's bliss? Well, for some of us, it's losing ourselves — or maybe finding ourselves — in an appealing book, like Rajeev Balasubramanyam's smart, intentionally comforting fourth novel.

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss sets the tone with its first line: "It should have been the greatest day of his life." Instead, we meet the eponymous 69-year-old Cambridge University economics professor in a state of barely concealed irritation at once again being passed over for the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Barbara Bush didn't want the title of Susan Page's The Matriarch to be called that.

The former first lady had instead suggested "The Fat Lady Sings Again" when the USA Today Washington bureau chief and veteran journalist asked her what she thought the title should be. Page conducted several interviews with Bush just ahead of her death almost a year ago.