NPR Staff

On Tuesday, the MacArthur Foundation awarded 33-year-old photographer and video artist LaToya Ruby Frazier a MacArthur Genius Grant. Frazier's work is set in Braddock, Pa., the small town outside Pittsburgh where she grew up. Built on steel, today Braddock is struggling to get by. Frazier tells NPR's Ari Shapiro why she chose to focus her lens on her hometown.

Interview Highlights

On why she chose Braddock as her subject

Anthony Marra's first book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, painted a portrait of Chechnya so real and compelling, readers might have felt they'd actually visited that war-torn land. His new collection follows a real painting, a mysterious image of a dacha, and all the lives it touches over seven decades of Russian history.

It's difficult enough to start an orchestra, but Zuhal Sultan founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) as a teenager in the middle of a war. She brought together 40 young musicians from different Iraqi cities and sectarian backgrounds in an effort to unify a divided nation. Now, six years later, the Euphrates Institute has named her Visionary of the Year.

Some pretty horrible things befall astronaut Mark Watney in the new movie The Martian: sandstorms, explosions, extreme isolation, even frustrations growing potatoes. It's a series of unfortunate events that's at once highly scientific and very entertaining.

The Martian is the brainchild of author Andy Weir, who wrote the blockbuster novel that inspired the film. As Weir tells it, he'd always longed for some science fiction with greater emphasis on the science.

Khaled Alkojak is one of the few Syrians to have made it to the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war. Even here, though, the 31-year-old remains in limbo, unsure of how long he'll be allowed to stay.

For now, Alkojak lives in Southern California. When he spoke with NPR's Arun Rath, Alkojak spoke of his life in Syria before the war.

"Nothing special," Alkojak says. "I'm just like any Syrian guy from Damascus. I work with my father; we have a family business."

He helped run his family's Internet cafe, at the same time attending school to study computers.

Years ago, in the small town of Maiden, N.C., a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a storage locker, and in it he found a grill. When he took both of them home and opened the grill, he discovered something he hadn't been expecting: a mummified human leg.

Most people — one presumes — would've have wanted to get rid of the leg as soon as possible. Whisnant, however, wanted to keep it. Trouble is, the original owner of the limb, John Wood, wanted it back. He'd had to have that leg amputated years earlier.

If anyone has the credentials to write a book called The Art Of Language Invention, it's David J. Peterson.

He has two degrees in linguistics. He's comfortable speaking in eight languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Esperanto, Arabic and American Sign Language) — plus a long list of others he's studied but just hasn't tried speaking yet. He's also familiar with fictional languages — both famous ones like Klingon and deep cuts like Pakuni (the caveman language from Land Of The Lost).

Human smugglers prey on the desperation of people who flee war and oppression. They've made millions moving people across borders, without regard to safety. Thousands have died, locked in packed trucks or trapped in sinking ships — like the "ghost ships," crowded with Syrian refugees, which have been set on course to crash into the Italian coast.

When Sherry Turkle came into the studio for her interview with NPR's Scott Simon, she left her cell phone outside. "I gave my iPhone to someone ... out of my line of vision," she says, "because research shows that the very sight of the iPhone anywhere in your line of vision actually changes the conversation."

There is a special place in the canon for the truly sophisticated children's fantasy series — Tolkein, LeGuin, Lewis, L'Engle ... and Pullman. This year, the first book in Philip Pullman's famed His Dark Materials trilogy turns 20 years old.

The novels in that series — The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass — tell a kind of anti-creation story, the story of 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua, her daemon Pantalaimon, and their epic struggle against a church called the Magisterium.

The children of admired, famous people can have a tough time becoming their own person despite — and even because of — all of their advantages. But what does life hold for the sons and daughters of tyrants and dictators whose very names become synonyms for evil? Does the name they bear sentence them too?

Today, Noramay Cadena is a mechanical engineer, fitted with multiple degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But she came by her motivation in a place much different from the MIT classrooms: a factory in Los Angeles where her mother brought her one summer as a teenager.

The filmmaker Nancy Meyers dominates a certain Hollywood niche: Her comedies star grown-ups, and they appeal to a grown-up audience. She wrote and directed Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated, and her latest, The Intern — starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway as the CEO and intern at a startup company. Here's the catch: Anne Hathaway plays the CEO — and at age 70, De Niro's character is the intern. Meyers tells NPR's Ari Shapiro that despite some of the scenes in the movie, they didn't actually have to show De Niro how to use Facebook.