NPR Staff

Mansoor Shams is comfortable with a variety of labels.

He's a veteran, who served in the U.S. Marines from 2000 to 2004. He's a small-business owner. He's a Muslim youth leader. And now he's an ambassador — self-appointed.

Shams is traveling around the country with a sign that says, "I'm A Muslim U.S. Marine Ask Anything."

Author Julia Alekseyeva's great-grandmother Lola lived to be 100 years old, long enough to see the birth, and eventual collapse, of the USSR. In 1992, she and her family — including young Julia — moved from Kiev to Chicago.

Unbeknownst to her family, Lola began to write her memoirs, recording the stories of her life as a Jew in the Soviet Union, filled with vivid details and enlivened by a strong, independent spirit. Upon Lola's death, Julia discovered her great-grandmother's memoirs, and has now transformed them into her debut graphic novel, Soviet Daughter.

Last year, Brazil lost one of its most famous musicians: Naná Vasconcelos, who put an instrument called the berimbau on the world's musical map. It's a kind of bow with a gourd attached, and it is the inspiration for a new album, MeiaMeia: New Music for Berimbau, by the group Arcomusical.

Elliot Ackerman's new novel Dark at the Crossing is about a man who escaped one conflict zone with his life, and now wants to break into a new one.

Haris Abadi — an Iraqi who worked for U.S. special forces during the Iraq War and later became a U.S. citizen — wants to put his new life on the line to free Syria from the cruel grip of Bashar al-Assad.

But Haris is turned back at the Turkish-Syrian border, then robbed, then taken in by Syrian refugees who make him look into his own commitment. Is it to Syria — or, ultimately, his own definition of himself?

When Donald Trump won the presidential election, he made a pledge to every citizen: that he would be president for all Americans. In the weeks before Trump's inauguration, we're going to hear about some of the communities that make up this nation, from the people who know them best, in our series Finding America.

Holdenville, Okla., is home to about 5,800 people. It has a small downtown with banks, restaurants and a few shops, though some are closed down.

In 2009, the heavy metal band Disturbed received a Grammy nomination for its song "Inside The Fire," a hard-hitting, emotional track delivered with aggressive guitar riffs and raspy singing.

Henry Morgenthau III was in his 90s when he started to write poetry.

Morgenthau has had an extraordinarily full life. He's produced award-winning television documentaries, raised children, written a memoir — and yes, his father was the Henry Morgenthau Jr. who was Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary.

Veronica Roth became best-selling author when she was just 23 years old. Her Divergent trilogy for young adults was instantly popular and it was made into similarly popular films. Roth has now written her first new series since Divergent. The first novel is called Carve the Mark, and it takes place in a world where everyone comes into a gift when they reach adolescence.

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And now it's time for a last call on the Commercials for Nicer Living project, version 2017.

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When President Obama gave his goodbye speech this week, one of hip-hop's most politically active stars was watching.

It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks to Mike Sutter, food critic for the San Antonio Express-News, about his "365 days of Tacos" series, in which he eats at a different taco joint every day for a year. He's done it before, in Austin, where he ate more than 1,600 tacos in 2015. But now he's moved to San Antonio, and he's finding that the taco scene there is a bit different, and in fact is tied to a cultural identity that spans back many decades.

When Donald Trump won the presidential election, he made a pledge to every citizen: that he would be president for all Americans. In the weeks before Trump's inauguration, we're going to hear about some of the communities that make up this nation, from the people who know them best, in our series Finding America.

Gabriel Otero's family has lived in Tucson, Ariz., for five generations. The region about 70 miles from Mexico has a complicated history. Lots of people have called it home.

Recently, NPR brought you the story of one of 2016's most successful musicians: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Last year, the Universal Music Group released a 200-CD box set of the composer's works. Multiply that by the 6,000-odd sets sold worldwide as of early December, and you had 1.25 million CDs. And that, we said, had given Mozart a hit release.

The novel Lucky Boy focuses on two women and two very different pictures of immigration. In one story, 18-year-old Soli enters the U.S. from Mexico without papers. In the other, an Indian-American woman named Kavya is struggling to have a baby with her husband, who works in Silicon Valley. Their stories converge around a baby, the "lucky boy" of the book's title.

Many of us feel irked when we hear people speaking "incorrectly." Whether it's using "like" a few too many times, or the word "literally" to mean "figuratively," we have a sense that there is a correct way to speak, and that that isn't it. While new speech patterns might be irritating, the linguist John McWhorter says they can't possibly be wrong. His new book is Words on the Move: Why English Won't and Can't Sit Still (Like Literally).

In Venezuela, food has become so scarce it's now being sold on the black market. One person tells the Associated Press, "it's a better business than drugs."

And the food traffickers are the very people sworn to protect Venezuela: the nation's military.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gave the military complete control of the food supply last summer, after people began protesting in the streets over food rationing. Shortages had become so bad that people were even ransacking grocers — though many were largely empty.

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We're going to talk about "Hidden Figures" for just a few more minutes. The movie is just out this weekend, but it is already a hit with young women of color who are interested in science, technology and math.

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On Tuesday, President Obama will give his farewell address to the nation. It's a custom that goes all the way back to George Washington; these speeches, author John Avlon says, "serve as a bookend to a presidency."

For about 150 years, Washington's farewell speech was the most famous in American history, Avlon tells NPR's Michel Martin: "It was more widely reprinted than the Declaration of Independence. And yet today, it's almost entirely forgotten."

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Lukas Forchhammer, frontman of the Danish pop band Lukas Graham, grew up in a neighborhood called Christiania in the capital city of Copenhagen. It's not your typical urban environment: It used to be an army base, but it was abandoned in 1970, and squatters turned it into an autonomous settlement in 1971. To this day, it operates very differently from the city that surrounds it.

"There must be something about me and orphans," says author Jerry Spinelli.

Several of Spinelli's novels tell orphan stories, including his Newbery award-winning book Maniac Magee.

"People come from other people," he says. "And if you remove one of the elements in that equation you're left with someone who is, in some sense, abandoned — and that changes the equation."

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Maintaining a long-term relationship can be difficult, but Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith have managed to do it — and they've become megastars in the process. They make up the band The xx, and they've been making music together since they were kids.

An extended version of this conversation is now available as a podcast. Stream or download it from Pop Culture Happy Hour.

When Donald Trump won the presidential election, he made a pledge to every citizen: that he would be president for all Americans. In the weeks before Trump's inauguration, we're going to hear about some of the communities that make up this nation, from the people who know them best, in our series Finding America.

In Roane County, Tenn., the legal and personal costs of the opioid epidemic collide at the county courthouse.

"Difficult woman" is a loaded term, but writer Roxane Gay isn't afraid of taking on ideas with baggage. (A few years ago, she wrote a book of essays called Bad Feminist.) Her new short story collection, Difficult Women, explores women's lives and issues of race, class and sex.

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