NPR Staff

As part of a new 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.

Actor Ed Harris, whose new film The Face of Love is out in select theaters, has taken on some indelible roles: from the controlling creator of the tiny universe in The Truman Show, to abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock.

But his most memorable acting experience came long before these Oscar-nominated performances.

Toga parties and keg stands have become stereotypes of college fraternities. But Ali Mahmoud had something else in mind when he founded Alpha Lambda Mu, the first social Muslim fraternity in the country.

"I realized that there was this void for Muslims on campus," says Mahmoud, a junior at the University of Texas at Dallas.

When the starting gun sounds at Mount Tabor High School track meets, senior Kayla Montgomery from Winston-Salem, N.C., takes off.

The 18-year-old runner sets records, wins state titles, and next week, she's headed to nationals in New York.

But when Montgomery runs, her legs go totally numb. She has multiple sclerosis, a disease that causes nerve damage and interference in communication between her brain, spinal cord and legs.

For the Affordable Care Act to be considered a success years down the road, Ezekiel Emanuel believes that all Americans must have access to health coverage, and it must be better quality and lower cost. "And I think it's well within our grasp," he says.

Walter Kirn has written insightful, best-selling novels — including Up in the Air and Thumbsucker, which were made into movies. He's an expert in the art of fiction.

So why did he fail to see the signs of falsehood in real life?

When Kirn was just starting his novel-writing career, he met a man who was a bold financier, an art collector, a fussy eccentric, a dog lover and a Rockefeller. They became friends.

When most people see bugs on the big screen, they squirm, panic or squeal. But not Steven Kutcher. Kutcher is the man responsible for getting those insects on the screen. He's been Hollywood's go-to bug wrangler since the 1970s, handling, herding and otherwise directing insects in over 100 feature films.

A lot of talented jazz musicians in the 1930's couldn't buy a drink in the places they played. They were the African-American musicians who helped create the era's signature sound — but still had to live under the sting of segregation. Unless they went elsewhere.

Author Nicole Mones' new Night in Shanghai centers on classcially trained Baltimore pianist Thomas Greene, who's recruited to play jazz — a music that's new to him — in a new place: not Harlem, or the south side of Chicago, or even Paris, but Shanghai.

Aaron didn't intend to tell his classmates that he was homeless. But when he recorded his own story with StoryCorpsU — a project designed to help kids in high-needs schools build stronger relationships with their teachers — he says, it just came out.

"I felt ... like a big load was let off," Aaron explains. (NPR has withheld Aaron's last name, at the request of his foster care agency, to protect his privacy.) "I don't know what made me say it, but I'm like, 'Let me just be honest and just get it out.' "

The Vieuxtemps Guarneri is a violin that is older than the United States of America — 273 years old, to be exact. It recently became the most expensive violin in the world, selling for an estimated $16 million. Its new owner anonymously donated the historic instrument to violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, on loan for the rest of her life.

This is part of an All Things Considered series that imagines a counterfactual history of World War I.

World War I began 100 years ago this summer. It's a centennial that goes beyond mere remembrance; the consequences of that conflict are making headlines to this day.

Every Sunday night, the Washington, D.C. member station WAMU takes a trip into the past. Music swells and guns blaze as dramas from the golden age of radio hit the airwaves again, on the beloved program The Big Broadcast.

"Marines and soldiers don't issue themselves orders, they don't send themselves overseas," says former Marine Phil Klay. "United States citizens elect the leaders who send us overseas."

Jazz violinist Regina Carter grew up in Detroit, but as a child she spent summers in Alabama, where her paternal grandmother lived. Her grandfather died before she was born, and recently she began researching his side of the family. One revelation that sparked her interest: Her dad's dad had been a coal miner.

According to the libertarian social scientist Charles Murray, America is "coming apart at the seams." Class strain has cleaved society into two groups, he argues in his new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010: an upper class, defined by educational attainment, and a new lower class, characterized by the lack of it. Murray also posits that the new "lower class" is less industrious, less likely to marry and raise children in a two-parent household, and more politically and socially disengaged

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