Arts & Culture

Interviews and stories about art, culture, music, books, food / dining and sports.

In Tokyo, workers have started tearing down a Japanese landmark — the Hotel Okura. The Okura is a treasure of 1960s modernist design and has hosted every American president since Richard Nixon, Hollywood royalty and actual royalty.

"The service there is something very special. The lobby attendants, the women in their kimonos, the men in their tuxes," says former U.S. ambassador John Roos, who served in Japan during President Obama's first term. "It's a place that people from all over the world have come to stay and to admire."

It's pumpkin-selling season, and crowds are flocking to farms to pick out their own jack-o'-lanterns. But this year, challenging weather conditions have cut the supply of pumpkins — both for carving and canning.

Heavy summer rains in parts of the Midwest and elsewhere have left many farmers short on pumpkins. And in California, drought has squeezed the crop.

Rev. Jim Wallis leads the Christian social justice group Sojourners. He is known for merging faith with public life, urging candidates for office to discuss moral issues in a way that transcends ideological divisions. Michel Martin talks with Wallis about his book America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.

From his roles in Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the Dick Van Dyke Show and, most recently, the Night at the Museum movies, actor Dick Van Dyke has been in our collective consciousness for a very long time.

Though he seems to be ageless, the Emmy, Tony and Grammy Award-winning star turns 90 next month. And to help mark the occasion he's published a new book with author Todd Gold, Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging.

From the Roman Empire to the Cold War-era Soviet Union, many Christian groups throughout history have been forced to conceal their faith to survive government persecution. But some of Japan's kakure kirishitan, or "hidden Christians," have remained closeted for nearly 4 1/2 centuries — long after the threat of persecution had lifted.

Their religion morphed into what is arguably a separate faith, barely recognizable as the creed imported in the mid-1500s by Catholic missionaries, including the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



There's a surge of interest in the work of 20th century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. It's inspired in part by American country and folk singer-songwriter Iris Dement, who has an adopted daughter from Russia and has set some of the poet's work to music in a new album, The Trackless Woods.

Colum McCann first won fans around the world with his bestselling novel Let The Great World Spin. The Irish author is now releasing a new collection of short fiction — a novella and three stories — called Thirteen Ways of Looking. They're tales that deal with parenthood, loss and just how arbitrary life can be. In one story, a mother searches desperately for her adopted and disabled son who has gone missing on coast of Ireland.

Bonnie Jo Campbell burst upon the literary landscape in 2009 with a collection called American Salvage that was raw and resonant, telling stories of the Rust Belt with frankness and an infinite patience for the voices of those whose stories are often left untold. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle award. And now she's back, after a novel (Once Upon a River, an updated female Huck Finn tale) with an even stronger collection.

Just after the Second World War, at a time when segregation remained firmly ensconced in the U.S., African-American writer Richard Durham was taking on racism, inequality and social justice — and he was doing it all on the radio.

From 1948 through 1950, Durham and a small troupe of black and white actors produced elaborate radio dramas that helped undermine the stereotypes of the day. Every Sunday morning at 10, on Chicago's WMAQ, listeners of Destination Freedom would get to hear about figures like Louis Armstrong, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and Jackie Robinson.