NPR Staff

Juan Gabriel Vásquez is best known for his 2013 blockbuster novel The Sound of Things Falling. But more than a decade before that book vaulted him onto the international literary stage, he published a well-reviewed collection of short stories in Spanish.

Now, that collection, Lovers on All Saints' Day, is getting an English translation.

In The Sunday Conversation, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

DiShan Washington is a pastor's daughter, and when she was 16 years old, she married a young minister at her dad's church. She didn't know a lot about sex, let alone what she describes as the "spicy stuff."

Flowers, bugs and bees: Stephen Buchmann wanted to study them all when he was a kid.

"I never grew out of my bug-and-dinosaur phase," he tells NPR's Arun Rath. "You know, since about the third grade, I decided I wanted to chase insects, especially bees."

These days, he's living that dream. As a pollination ecologist, he's now taking a particular interest in how flowers attract insects. In his new book, The Reason for Flowers, he looks at more than just the biology of flowers — he dives into the ways they've laid down roots in human history and culture, too.

In Northern Ireland, "the Troubles" — the long and bloody conflict between Catholic Irish nationalists and pro-British Protestants — formally came to an end with a peace agreement in 1998.

In one of this year's most intense international competitions, the United States has come out as best in the world — and this time, we're not talking about soccer.

This week, the top-ranked math students from high schools around the country went head-to-head with competitors from more than 100 countries at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And, for the first time in more than two decades, they won.

If you turned on a radio in 1979, there was very good chance you'd hear the music of Rickie Lee Jones. At only 24, she leapt onto the world stage with her big single "Chuck E.'s in Love." Rolling Stone called her "the dutchess of coolsville."

President Obama responded sharply this week when a reporter asked if he was "content" to celebrate the nuclear deal with Iran when at least three and possibly four Americans are being held in Iranian jails.

"Nobody's content," he said, "and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out."

At least one former American hostage thinks the deal is worth signing, despite the remaining hostages.

There was a voice during the civil rights movement of the 1960s that soothed and inspired those who marched on Southern streets and tried to sit at segregated lunch counters.

Fannie Lou Hamer was a Mississippi sharecropper's daughter who grew up to become an activist and a musician. She registered black voters, stood up to bigotry, and was beaten by the police for her heroism. In 1983, Worth Long of the Smithsonian Institution put together a cassette recording of Hamer's music and recollections. That collection has just been reissued.

All summer, Weekend Edition has been traveling the country in search of local flavor. The Midwest marks the latest stop on that trip of taste, down in Springfield, Mo. But the spot we found sports a distinctly tropical vibe.

It's called Pineapple Whip — both the beloved frozen dessert, and the series of roadside stands that sling them to long lines of eager eaters. And the treat is simple, too: a nondairy, juice-based soft serve. Something so simple, and so distinctive, it's tough to label it with any readily recognizable category, any name but its own.

Seventy years ago, shortly after defeating Nazi Germany, three victorious leaders met in Potsdam, just outside Berlin. President Harry Truman was there with British and Soviet leaders Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Stuart Canin was also there — he was a 19-year-old GI from New York City who played the violin.

It's easy to think we're being virtuous when we fill up the blue recycling bin and put it on the curb. But it's clear we have embraced some magical thinking when it comes to what can be recycled.

Morning Edition asked its social media followers to share what puzzles them the most about the recycling process. Then, NPR's Dianna Douglas visited a waste management plant in Elkridge, Md., to get the answers from Michael Taylor, director of recycling operations for the plant.

On Thursday, President Obama became the first sitting president in U.S. history to visit a federal prison, taking a tour of the El Reno Federal Correction Institution in Oklahoma. Earlier in the week, he addressed the NAACP in Philadelphia, calling for reforms in the criminal justice system — with the hopes of helping people who have served time turn their lives around.

Oshea Israel, whom listeners first met through StoryCorps in 2011, has done just that.

Syria's civil war has created the worst refugee crisis in the world, with more than 4 million people fleeing the country. Millions more have been displaced inside Syria, though we rarely hear from them.

Over the past year, NPR's Morning Edition has spoken three times with Saeed al-Batal, a photographer and filmmaker who doesn't use his real name for security reasons.

The "E" in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's newly unveiled presidential logo is a stylized American flag — as it turns out, one that looks remarkably similar to the logo for America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.

The company's CEO, Reade Fahs, said he doesn't mind but also that it's unlikely the governor hasn't seen the 18-year-old logo. "It's on hundreds of stores across the country. So assuming he's got good vision, he probably would have spotted it in his campaign travels. And we have lots of stores in Wisconsin too."

Silicon Valley admits it has a diversity problem. Companies from Google to Facebook to Twitter have reported that a majority of their employees are white males.

The Guinness Book of World Records calls "Happy Birthday to You" the most recognized song in the English language. But you'll rarely ever hear it on TV or in a movie.

Instead, you usually hear something that sounds sort of like the song, but not quite. In Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, for example, the characters sing: "Happy, happy birthday from all of us to you, we wish it was our birthday so we could party, too."

In an age of CEO gaffes and snafus, one in particular drew significant backlash last year.

Like many Star Trek fans, Michael Chang Gummelt wants the legendary franchise to return to TV. And like many fans, he has a lot of ideas about what such a reboot should look like.

But Gummelt also has something no other fan does: a meeting with Paramount to pitch his concept.

When the first Palestinian uprising began in the late 1980s, the images from the intifada showed exploding tear gas canisters launched by Israelis, answered by Palestinian youngsters shooting slingshots and hurling rocks. A photographer snapped a photo of a boy with tears in his eyes, an 8-year-old named Ramzi Aburedwan. The image came to represent the rage and frustration of life in the refugee camps. But although his face was famously stuck in time, Ramzi's life changed dramatically when he was introduced to music at age 16.

Patricia Marx is a former writer for Saturday Night Live and Rugrats. She's a contributor to The New Yorker.

And she's afraid she's losing her mind.

"There were just so many moments of, 'What's that thing that you put the thing in that's got the thing that, you know, that what is it called?' " Marx tells NPR's Arun Rath.

"I was really worried that in a matter of days, I was going to need a caregiver and the caregiver was going to find the butter dish in my sock drawer."

It sounds like a dream: Two old friends, supporting each other from afar, both carve out stellar reputations in the music industry. Then, when they're established enough to call the shots, they band together. For two musicians, it's what really happened.

It's been wet in Texas this year — exceptionally wet, as a matter of fact. With record amounts of rain, Texas is more than a little hot, green and rife with happy insects.

Take the tarantula hawk, for example. In case you've never heard of it, it's a wasp that's so big, and so nasty, that it attacks tarantulas — who happen to be quite big and nasty themselves.

So, what does a happy tarantula hawk look like? Ben Hutchins, an invertebrate biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, takes NPR's Wade Goodwyn through all the gruesome wasp-on-tarantula details.

Cyclists competing in the Tour de France entered the 8th Stage on Saturday, where they'll face some short but steep climbs as they ride west through Brittany. At the end of the day, cheering crowds will gather around the finish line, the stage winners feted.

What about the guy at the end of the pack? That's the question Max Leonard answers in his new book, Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France. Leonard tells NPR's Wade Goodwyn that the riders in the back often have far more interesting stories than the riders in the front.

That tight four-part harmony is unmistakable. And it's been around for a long time.

Barbershop quartets trace their roots back to the late 19th century, when African-Americans would gather in barbershops and on street corners to sing (it was called "cracking a chord"). The term "barbershop" was originally a put-down, but the 1910 song "Play That Barbershop Chord" put that to rest; by then, close-sung harmony was a national hit.

When writer Ta-Nehisi Coates sat down at NPR's New York studios a few days ago, he got a little emotional.

It was the first time that Coates, who writes for The Atlantic, had held a copy of his latest book, Between the World and Me.

This book is personal, written as a letter to his teenage son Samori. In it, we see glimpses of the hard West Baltimore streets where Coates grew up, his curiosity at work on the campus of Howard University and his early struggles as a journalist.

The nation's capital is sweaty and sweltering right now, but Washington locals and visitors can find a seaside getaway in the most unlikely of places. In the middle of downtown D.C., the National Building Museum has installed a 10,000-square-foot indoor "beach" that has attracted kids, tourists and workers looking for an out-of-the-ordinary lunch break.

Daniel Majok Gai wants to go back to South Sudan.

He thinks he can help his homeland — the youngest nation in the world. Today marks the fourth anniversary of its independence. But there's little celebration. The country is being ripped apart by civil war.

Yet Gai, who suffered through years of violence and pain as a refugee, believes he can play a role in moving South Sudan toward peace and safety.

Against all odds, the 34-year-old is an incredible optimist.

He was 6 when a militia attacked his village.

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