Scott Simon

Nate Marshall has a new collection of poems. It's called Finna, and he says the title of this new book comes from the Southern phrase "fixing to, right, which is like 'about to.' One of the things that I love about that, and that is a kind of central thing in the book, is it's all about what happens next. It's this thing that is informed by history, but that is all about looking forward, all about possibility. That's sort of what I hope the poems do, is that they I hope they sort of wrestle with history, but also look forward."

Kathleen Edwards had devoted fans and a successful career, with hits on the Billboard Top 40 charts and songwriting awards. But after her last album in 2012, she walked away from the music business. In fact, she opened a cafe in the suburbs of Ottawa, Canada, called Quitters Coffee.

The series Upright opens with a man hauling an upright piano in a trailer across the bare Australian landscape. He's frazzled and alone at the wheel, guzzling beer and gobbling pills. He gets a text message: "Mate. Time is running out. Don't duck this up."

Ah, spell-check.

Then he drives into a ditch, hears his piano bleat, and the shouts of an angry, profane 16-year-old he's just run into. Upright is the story of two strangers, Lucky and Meg, who take off across the expanse of Australia, scheming, swearing, pilfering, and becoming vital to each other.

TAB RAG SCRIBE MAKES LAST DEADLINE!

Pete Hamill was a tabloid man: a columnist and top name on the masthead, mostly for the New York Post and Daily News, who wrote punchy, passionate, lyrical chronicles of city life, often for people who had to read them while they held onto a strap, standing on the Number 7 train from Queens.

In the first frames of the documentary, We Are Freestyle Love Supreme, you glimpse a group of charming young men at a New York bus stop in 2005; they're beat-boxing and rapping to amuse a little girl. They shout across the street to a friend, Lin-Manuel Miranda. As he dodges cars to dash across the street, you realize: A key figure in show business history almost got run over.

I've had lunch with politicians, clergy, reporters and people who've just been indicted at Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen in Chicago, and there's a code of silence over the clatter: it doesn't count. The schmear of cream cheese thick enough to be a ski jump? No calories! Potato pancakes hefty as manhole covers?

No calories!

Remember Utopia Avenue? Elf, their keyboardist and singer — a voice from the clouds. Dean, the bluesy Cockney bass virtuoso. Griff on the drums — who didn't love gruff Griff? And of course, the peerless Jasper de Zoet, shredding, I mean shredding the guitar.

Their great hits — "Abandon Hope," "Smithereens," "Mona Lisa Sings the Blues" — propelled Utopia Avenue from seedy Soho clubs to Top of the Pops, and then America in the enchanted times of bell bottoms, the Beatles, drugs, sex, and street protests. Remember?

Ants do it. Lobsters do it. Even equatorial mandrills do it. Why don't many Americans do it: Wear masks and keep a wise social distance from each other?

Scientific American reports this week how several animals seem to know how to take precautions and keep their distance so they're less likely to be infected by a peer.

July 4th is U.S. Independence Day. But D.L. Hughley, the comedian and author, suggests in his new book that all U.S. holidays "be put on a probationary period to ascertain their relevance and value to All Americans, acknowledging that days off are nice and that mattress sales must occur ..."

His book, co-written with Doug Moe of the Upright Citizens Brigade, is Surrender, White People! Our Unconditional Terms for Peace.

Baseball's Negro Leagues were formally founded a hundred years ago this week. They should never have had to exist — but they sure had some glorious players and times.

Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and many more stars who couldn't play in the major leagues because of the cruelty of segregation engineered a sports enterprise of their own with superb teams that included the Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants and the Homestead Grays.

Rowing crew got Arshay Cooper away from the gang life on Chicago's West Side in the 1990s.

In A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America's First All-Black High School Rowing Team, he tells the story of how he, and others from rival neighborhoods, found their way to crew — and each other.

Now, Cooper is an accomplished chef in New York — and he works to convince other kids to find an outlet in crew. His forthcoming book has been turned into a documentary narrated by Common.

Novelist Roddy Doyle is not an autobiographical writer, but he does acknowledge: "The characters have been getting older as I get older."

In his latest novel, Love, Joe and Davy are two old friends who meet at a Dublin pub for a night of reconnecting and hard drinking. Joe has a burning secret; Davy has a concealed sorrow.

Writing older characters, means "the angle at which I'm looking at the world changes," Doyle says. "There's a lot more looking back than looking forward."

When actor Matthew Rhys first found out about plans to reboot the legal drama Perry Mason his first question was: Why?

"Why would you? How can you?" says Rhys, who stars in the new HBO show.

This Perry Mason is no rerun of your grandfather's Perry Mason from the 1960s. He's not a sharply creased L.A. defense lawyer, with a voice that booms in wood-paneled courtrooms.

No, this is "a very dark Perry Mason to which I was instantly very attracted," Rhys says.

Earlier this week, researchers in the United Kingdom announced preliminary results from a clinical trial that showed a low-cost steroid called dexamethasone appeared to lower the risk of death in patients with COVID-19.

The researchers said the anti-inflammatory drug reduced the number of deaths in COVID-19 patients on ventilators or oxygen alone by one-third.

A man I called Uncle Jim showed me how to tie a tie. The day I was going to graduate from 8th grade, he saw me in a white shirt with a yellow clip-on bow tie, shook his head, and went to his apartment to bring back one of his own dark blue neckties. Jim showed me how to pull together a Windsor knot, which I tie to this day.

Ted Turner and Daniel Schorr: Doesn't sound like a likely match, does it?

The Mouth of the South, as Ted Turner was called, and Murrow Boy Dan Schorr — one was on President Nixon's Enemies List when he covered the Watergate investigations for CBS. The other made some of his own worst enemies with, well, intemperate remarks.

Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee's new film, follows five friends who shed blood, sweat, and tears together in the 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War — and who return, after 50 years, to bring home the body of a fallen friend, and perhaps a treasure buried with him.

But is the treasure true riches, just reparations, or a curse?

Why are there U.S. military bases named for Confederate officers who took up arms against the United States?

I've covered stories at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the XVIII Airborne Corps is headquartered, and Fort Benning, Georgia, known as the Home of the Infantry.

With nationwide protests focusing renewed attention and urgency on the issue of police brutality, Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago says that police unions continue to be one of the biggest obstacles to reform.

The last week of protests and unrest has put many Americans on edge, especially those in communities of color. Some local leaders, like Sharon Kay, are using the airwaves to help organize and inform their communities.

75 years ago, in the summer of 1945, Ralph Waldo Ellison returned home from serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II and tried to rest on a farm in Vermont. But he was restless to write a novel. It would take him five years. That novel, Invisible Man, is enduring and imperishable.

For Clarence Castile, the death of George Floyd has felt all too familiar.

In 2016, Castile's nephew, Philando Castile, was pulled over while driving in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. The officer asked to see his license and registration, and he was reaching for them when the officer shot him five times.

"It is very painful to see another black man killed at the hands of the police for basically doing nothing worthy of dying for," Castile said in an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition.

Larry Kramer was angry, irascible, and indispensable. He was a playwright and novelist in 1983, as he saw friends around him die of what you then had to spell out as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. And he wrote a call to action in the New York Native, a gay bi-weekly paper: "1,112 and Counting," was the title.

It was the number of people diagnosed with serious complications from AIDS - nearly half in and around New York.

Andrea Hoehn of Waseca, Minnesota, told us this week, "I just want to wake up from this nightmare."

Many may feel that way right now. But the experience of the Hoehn family, and other livestock farmers, may be distinctly telling and tragic.

The Hoehn family has run a hog-farm for 6 generations. They can feed and care for about 20,000 hogs at a time, until they're sent to a packinghouse, where, yes, the pigs are slaughtered and packed for food. Hog-farming is a tough business, physically and financially, even in good times.

Monty and Rose met last year on a beach on the north side of Chicago. Their attraction was intense, immediate, and you might say, fruitful.

Somewhere between the roll of lake waves and the shimmer of skyscrapers overlooking the beach, Monty and Rose fledged two chicks. They protected their offspring through formative times. But then, in fulfillment of nature's plan, they parted ways, and left the chicks to make their own ways in the world.

Author and bookstore owner Emma Straub's new novel reminds us how lives can change in an instant — not that we may need that reminder too much right now.

All Adults Here is a modern family saga of three generations thrown together, whether they like it or not — and a lot of the time, they don't. It begins with a bang, when Astrid Strick sees a lifelong friend she'd never much liked get hit and killed by an empty, speeding school bus. And at the age of 68 she realizes — as she tells her children — that "there are always more school buses."

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of this country's greatest musical gatherings, would have celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. But instead the stages at Jazz Fest, as it is more commonly known, will be empty for the first time since 1970 after the organizers were forced to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic. But there is still music coming from New Orleans.

As I read news reports this week that health care workers in several states said they don't have enough protective gear, including face masks, an email pinged in.

"PUT ON YOUR GAME FACE," it said. A sport merchandise site now sells face masks in the colors and logos of NFL teams.

Let me just note that some masks looked more appealing than others. The dancing Miami Dolphin could make you look like a bear with a fish in its mouth.

Jerry Seinfeld says he's "adjusted pretty comfortably" to his new life in quarantine.

"I think there's something to be said for not socializing," he tells Weekend Edition. "It's kind of a rest for your face and your fake emotions and your repeating the same stories."

Seinfeld's new standup special, 23 Hours to Kill, starts streaming May 5 on Netflix.

He jokes in the special: "I could be anywhere in the world right now. Now you be honest. If you were me, would you be up here hacking out another one of these?"

Humans came from dust, says Ecclesiastes.

But writer Bonnie Tsui reminds us that humankind also once sprang from — and still seeks — water.

Why do we swim? Tsui takes us from ponds to pools to surfers, racers and a few who have survived icy currents, seeking the answer in her new book, Why We Swim.

Interview Highlights

On the story of Iceland's Guðlaugur Friðþórsson

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