NPR Staff

James Bay has come a long way in short time. Just a couple years ago he was playing pubs in England; now Bay has been nominated for an MTV Video Music Award and won Critic's Choice at the UK's equivalent of the Grammys, an honor he shares with Adele and Sam Smith.

Think back to the 1990s — to movies like Boyz n the Hood or Menace II Society.

Now, imagine one of those movies shot in black and white, with prayer beads and scenes from a mosque. And imagine it all in French.

Author Rebecca Stead collects ideas before she sits down to write, even from the smallest encounters — like this one:

"The idea came from a girl — she was wearing cat ears, and I said 'nice ears,'" she tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And she said, 'Thanks! I've been wearing them for a year! I don't know why!' And then she ran away."

Louis Sachar knows a few things about writing for kids. His first book, Sideways Stories From Wayside School, came out in 1978 — and the wacky collection is still in print.

His 1999 Newbery Medal winner, Holes, centers on a boy wrongly confined to a juvenile detention facility. It's mysterious and creepy, and it's still flying off the shelves.

So if he says kids will love a scary eco-bioterror-mystery-thriller-comedy, you just might trust him.

Greg Louganis is the best diver of his generation — perhaps the best the world has ever seen. The four-time gold medalist is the only man to ever sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympics.

The new documentary Back on Board, by director Cheryl Furjanic and producer Will Sweeney, contrasts that success with the inner turmoil Louganis experienced rising to stardom at such a young age.

The vote by the Boy Scouts of America to lift its ban on openly gay troop leaders last week was a blow to some religious conservative organizations that have long been connected to scouting, especially the Mormon church, which has deep roots in the Boy Scouts.

The church, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has used the Boy Scouts as its official program for young men for more than 100 years, according to Quin Monson, a political science professor at Brigham Young University.

If anything was going to make the case for putting warning labels on music, it was 2 Live Crew at the turn of the 1990s. The hip-hop group's output was so sexually explicit that it eventually became the subject of an obscenity case that made its way through some of the highest courts in this country. The man at the center of it all was Luther Campbell, a.k.a Luke Skywalker, the alter-ego that helped make 2 Live Crew one of the most legendary and notorious rap acts ever.

Beryl Markham was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. The British-born Kenyan woman was also a racehorse trainer, a writer and a fearless adventurer.

Once famous as an aviation pioneer, she's largely dropped out of the public consciousness. But novelist Paula McLain has put her back in the spotlight — as the protagonist of her new novel, Circling the Sun.

It's been nearly a year since a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Mo. Since then, more deadly police encounters across the country have prompted anger, activism and reform.

Many of those incidents began with traffic stops — routine events that quickly turned deadly. And attorney Eric Broyles says that the risks for citizens are not distributed evenly.

Andrew Gulli has an unusual passion: finding unpublished short stories by famous American authors. He searches through libraries and archives, finds works, researches to confirm they've never been published — then publishes them in the literary magazine he edits, The Strand.

It's almost impossible to think of a toy that's more ubiquitous than Lego bricks. The popular interlocking building blocks are everywhere — from the big screen to kids' rooms around the country.

So it may be hard to believe that in 2003, the Lego Group almost went bankrupt.

The company's near fall and meteoric rise is chronicled in the new film A LEGO Brickumentary.

What does a couple do for its 40th anniversary?

If you're Penn and Teller, you play Broadway. Thirty years after they first played New York, the duo are back with a new show. And it's no quiet celebration, either. In the course of a single performance, they make a cellphone ring inside a dead fish, swallow both needles and fire — and make a rare African spotted pygmy elephant disappear.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of unarmed black youth Michael Brown's death at the hands of Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is set to open next fall in Washington, D.C., has already started collecting banners and posters from the Ferguson protests, as well as gas masks donned by protesters and cell phone videos taken at the various demonstrations.

NPR is snacking its way around the country this summer, sampling a few delicacies that locals swear by and visitors want to find.

Today, pie is on the menu.

Bobkat's Purple Pie Place is a fixture in Custer, S.D. From chicken pot pie to strawberry rhubarb jalepeno, Trevor Yehlie and his family have been baking pies since 2009.

Customers hear that bumbleberry pie is the best on the menu — not from a bumbleberry bush but mixture of all the berries they use.

Yehlie's stepmother and a few helpers make 60-120 pies a day, he says.

Architect Renzo Piano has designed the 87-floor Shard skyscraper in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the new home for the Whitney Museum in New York.

Donnie Dunagan is a hard-nosed Marine, a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who served for a quarter-century. First drafted in the '50s and subsequently promoted 13 times in 21 years — a Corps record at the time, he recalls — Dunagan found the Marines a perfect fit. That is, so long as he could keep a secret.

A dark reminder of the past Dunagan left behind still lurked unspoken: He was Bambi.

Jason Isbell is riding high this week: His new album Something More Than Free is number one on Billboard's country, rock and folk charts. The musician from rural Alabama got his start with the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers, and then went solo. For the past few years, he's been sober, after drinking brought him "close to the point of no return."

Joss Stone's voice first stunned listeners more than a decade ago. The British singer was only 14 years old then, but her booming, soulful voice got noticed, as did her knack for taking success in stride. At age 28, she hasn't stopped: Stone's newest album, Water for Your Soul, comes out this Friday.

The cover story of this week's New York magazine is getting a lot of attention.

It features 35 women seated in chairs and one empty chair. The women are all dressed in black, looking straight ahead with both hands resting on their knees. It is a stark image, and all the more compelling because each of them is openly and by name accusing Bill Cosby of horrendous acts. Some say they were drugged and raped; others recount stories of narrowly escaping sexual assault.

Conservationists are lamenting the hunting and killing of a well-known lion from western Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

The black-maned lion, named Cecil, was 13 years old and had become popular among tourists from around the world.

There are about 140 million square miles of open ocean, and according to New York Times reporter Ian Urbina, much of it is essentially lawless. As Mark Young, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander and former chief of enforcement for the Pacific Ocean, told Urbina, the maritime realm is "like the Wild West. Weak rules, few sheriffs, lots of outlaws."

The smartphone has given us a whole new genre of cultural expression: the selfie.

If you're into selfies, it's safe to say you've probably taken one, and maybe wished you didn't have those dark circles under your eyes.

Now there are plenty of apps out there to fix that.

But whether you think your selfies can be elevated to art may depend on how much effort you are willing to put into them.

A Personal Brand Boost

On this day 62 years ago, Fidel Castro launched the attack that marked the start of the Cuban revolution. In the years since, the day has taken on emotional significance for the Cuban people — and for the communist government that celebrates it annually.

Transgender people are not getting adequate health care, and widespread discrimination is largely to blame, according to a recent World Health Organization report. And the story is told most starkly in the high rates of HIV among transgender women worldwide.

JoAnne Keatley, one of the authors of that study, puts it plainly.

When Bomba Estereo began a decade ago in Bogotá, audiences didn't quite know what to make of it. The group was combining some of the most traditional Colombian sounds with some of the most modern electronic sounds, and not everyone appreciated the idea.

"I promise you I will show the same contempt for the historical record that it has shown for me."

So intone the opening pages of Austin Grossman's Crooked, in what are supposed to be the thoughts of our 37th president, Richard Nixon — or, at least, those thoughts as Grossman imagines them.

National Lampoon's Vacation has been resurrected: more than 30 years later, the Griswolds are back on another reckless, wild road trip.

In the new movie Vacation, Rusty Griswold, the son from the original series, is all grown up and taking his family on a cross-country trip to the theme park Walley World. It goes about as smoothly as you'd expect.

Co-writers and co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein say the R-rated movie is not a reboot or a remake, but very much a sequel.

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