NPR Staff

George Saunders is acclaimed as a genius of the short story — and now he's written his first novel. It reads as part Our Town, part ghost story, and even part Ken Burns. It's a story that gives voice to a child who has died, and resonance to the silence of his father, who is enveloped by — and the instrument of — much grief.

On New Year's Eve, 2006, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee developed a splitting headache. She was 33, and her world turned upside down — as in, she literally saw the world upside down. Suddenly, she could hold things in her mind for only 15 minutes at a time. She was a writer who now couldn't recall words or craft sentences. She remembers looking at the phone and thinking to herself: What is the phone number for 911? Days later, she learned she'd had a stroke.

When author Viet Thanh Nguyen was 4 years old, he and his family fled South Vietnam and came to the U.S. as refugees. That's about the same age his own son is now — and Nguyen wonders if his child will ever know the feeling of "otherness" that he knows so well.

"I think it's a very valuable experience," Nguyen tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. "I wish, not only my son, but everybody, had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, to be an other. Because that's partly what gives rise to compassion and to empathy — the sense that you are not always at the center of the universe."

Joyce Carol Oates' latest book opens in 1999 with a killing: A man who considers himself a soldier of Christ shoots a doctor who performs abortions. Over the next 700-plus pages, we see the consequences of that act ripple through the doctor's family and that of his killer.

The novel is called A Book of American Martyrs. Oates, who is outspoken about her liberal politics, spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro.


Interview Highlights

On telling parts of the story from the perspective of the killer, Luther

"I think you work harder if you're haunted by some small darkness," says John Darnielle. And if the work he's produced is any indication, Darnielle is one haunted man.

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Trigger alert - does someone incessantly...

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The dynamic, sometimes evil and always enthralling Victor Newman has been a mainstay of CBS' daytime soap The Young and the Restless. The character is played by actor Eric Braeden, who is marking his 37th year on the show. Braeden also has a new memoir out called I'll Be Damned. In it, he shares stories from his career and his childhood in post-World War II Germany.

Wyclef Jean and Haiti are inextricably linked: His music carries the vibe and memories of life on the island nation he hails from. Since his days in The Fugees, Jean has used music to address the problems and pleasures of his home country.

In 1987, the popular sitcom A Different World brought stories of life at historically black colleges into living rooms across the country. For six seasons, the NBC TV show chronicled the goings on at the fictional Hillman College.

Since then, no other show on the small screen has been dedicated solely to the culture of historically black colleges — until now. Thirty years after A Different World's debut, BET has premiered The Quad.

On her latest album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope, country veteran Reba McEntire went through hundreds of songs from her history, picking and choosing the ones that touched her heart the most. One of them is the iconic worship tune "Jesus Loves Me," which, in a way, was the first song McEntire was ever paid to perform.

Daphne Merkin is a productive and admired professional, a writer and critic for the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, a novelist and essayist. But all of her life, she's struggled with melancholy, the blues, the black dog, the blue devils — depression, by any other name.

Clergy across the country are sermonizing about events in Washington, D.C.

For Rev. Adam Hamilton, that is both a challenge and an obligation.

Hamilton founded the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas in 1990, hoping to attract what he describes as thinking Christians with little or no engagement with their faith. The congregation began meeting in the chapel of a funeral home.

With stories about politics and international affairs dominating the news cycle, it can be easy to miss what's going on in the world of music. To help with that, NPR Music has a Friday roundup of what was on its radar this week.

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