NPR Staff

Back in 1986, Allen Toussaint told All Things Considered that he could write a song from the scraps of a joke, or from snippets of conversations. If the occasion called for it, he could even fashion writer's block into verse.

"Well, how do you write a song?" he offered, playfully. "Do you make it short? Do you make it long? Is there any right? Is there any wrong? Just how do you write a song?"

All composers have obsessions. For John Adams, a composer who decidedly broke with the past, that obsession is Beethoven, as heard in the new album Absolute Jest.

Shonda Rhimes will be the first to admit she didn't expect to be famous. Hollywood is notoriously uncharitable to writers, but the success of her company ShondaLand — the force behind the ABC top-rated dramas Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder — has made her a household name.

Author Michael Cunningham was fascinated by fairy tales as a child — but he always wondered what happened after the story ended. His new collection, A Wild Swan, tries to answer that question.

Cunningham spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin on how one story ends and another begins.

Interview Highlights

On what happens after the happily-ever-after

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson has been having a rough couple of days. In the past 48 hours, several news organizations have raised questions about aspects of his past.

But even as he's weathered the increased media scrutiny, this week also saw Carson grab headlines for a decidedly different campaign milestone: He dropped a rap song.

Betto Arcos — world-music connoisseur and host of the Cosmic Barrio podcast — is a frequent guest of weekends on All Things Considered, where he shares the music he's discovered in his travels.

A lot of men might like to get a letter from Mary-Louise Parker. She's written more than 30 to some of the men who've been important in her life: The grandfather she never got the chance to know. Her childhood priest. A Hollywood accountant. A man who will one day love her daughter. Her father. And they're all in a new book, Dear Mr. You. She tells NPR's Scott Simon that her father loved words. "We used to send poems back and forth in the mail, and go and sit in book stores together and talk about books and read books. He informs everything I do and everything I say, really.

The Seattle duo Odesza has become known for its lush, even sentimental spin on electronic music. Many of the songs on the group's latest album, In Return, feature vocalists singing wistful lyrics about longing and desire.

"Electronic music can get really weird," says Clayton Knight, one-half of the group. "And I think we've made it, in some way, more accessible. It has a pop element to it that allows people to get involved with it."

Dalton Trumbo was a successful Hollywood screenwriter in the 1930s. Like other writers, his anti-fascism and pro-working-class politics led him to join the American Communist Party. Then in the '40s, Trumbo was part of a group of screenwriters who were blacklisted for being Communists. He was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and after he refused to cooperate, he served a one-year prison sentence for contempt of Congress.