Melissa Block

As special correspondent, Melissa Block produces richly reported profiles of figures at the forefront of thought and culture, as well as stories and series on the critical issues of our day. Her reporting spans both domestic and international news. In addition, she is a guest host on NPR news programs.

Great reporting combined with compelling storytelling is vital to NPR's future. No one exemplifies that blend better than Block. As listeners well know, she has an amazing ability for telling the important stories of our age in a way that engages both the heart and the mind. It is why she has earned such a devoted following throughout her 30-year career at NPR.

As co-host of All Things Considered from 2003 to 2015, Block's reporting took her everywhere from the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the heart of Rio de Janeiro; from rural Mozambique to the farthest reaches of Alaska. Her riveting reporting from Sichuan, China, during and after the massive earthquake there in 2008 helped earn NPR broadcast journalism's top honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, duPont-Columbia Award, Edward R. Murrow Award, National Headliner Award, and the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Block began at NPR in 1985 as an editorial assistant for All Things Considered and rose to become senior producer. From 1994 to 2002, she was a New York reporter and correspondent. Her reporting after the attacks of September 11, 2001, helped earn NPR a Peabody Award.

When Katharine Briggs — a mother and homemaker — began what she called a "cosmic laboratory of baby training" in her Michigan living room in the early 1900s, she didn't know she was laying the groundwork for what would one day become a multi-million dollar industry. Briggs was just 14 years old when she went to college, and ended up graduating first in her class, explains author Merve Emre. She married the man who graduated just behind her at No. 2 — and while he became a scientist, she was expected to take care of the home.

In the new documentary film Minding the Gap, we see a message hand-painted on a smashed skateboard: "THIS DEVICE CURES HEARTACHE."

There's a lot of heartache in this movie. And if skateboarding doesn't cure it, it offers an essential escape for the troubled young men we meet in the film.

Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson are skateboarding friends growing up in Rockford, Ill. The filmmaker, Bing Liu, is a fellow skateboarder from Rockford.

He is the lesser-known Founding Father from Philadelphia named Benjamin — the one whose face does not grace the $100 bill.

Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a doctor — arguably the most famous doctor in America — who became known as the American Hippocrates. During the Revolutionary War, Rush was alongside Gen. George Washington when he crossed the Delaware; he treated battlefield casualties behind enemy lines; and later, became a pioneer in the field of mental health.

She was the one who would not be queen.

Princess Margaret was glamorous where her older sister, Elizabeth, was, well, sensible; acid-tongued, where Elizabeth was unfailingly, royally polite; scandalous, where Elizabeth could never dream of it.

For many years, Princess Margaret seemed to be everywhere. There was her doomed, forbidden romance with the divorced Peter Townsend, then her unhappy marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Our series "Take A Number" looks at problems around the world — and the people trying to solve them — through the lens of a single number.

At the tiny public library in Winterport, Maine, 43-year-old Robert Hartmann bends over The Little Engine That Could and slowly sounds out the first line.

"Ch-chug, right?" he asks his volunteer tutor, Sandy DeLuck. "Yup," she encourages him. He presses on: "Puh-puff ... puff ... puff. Ding ... ding-dong?"

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are Olympic athletes, and then there are Olympic families. NPR's Melissa Block caught up with a famous former Olympian as she watched her daughter compete in South Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We will, we will rock you.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Winter Olympics start this week in South Korea. NPR's Melissa Block brings us the story of one athlete who is astonished just to be there. Here's her story.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: She's an accidental Olympian.

The music of The Lemon Twigs has a sound that channels decades long past.

Michael, 18, and Brian D'Addario, 20, the brothers who make up the band, have a look that matches: We're talking peak 1970s shag haircuts, oversized tinted aviator shades and high-waisted bell-bottom jeans.

Time and again, writer Daniel Alarcón has found himself on those lists that make other, less fortunate writers gnash their teeth. He's been named one of 37 under the age of 36, 39 under 39, and 20 under 40. Alarcón is 40 now — he was born in Peru, grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham, Ala., and he's got a new collection of short stories called The King is Always Above the People.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A moment now to remember one of rock music's most-beloved musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: (Singing) She was an American girl.

On a recent, perfect morning at Johnson Farms in northern Michigan, workers climb wooden ladders high up into the trees, picking bags strapped across their bodies. The branches are heavy with fruit that glows in the morning sun. Their fingers are a blur, nimbly plucking fruit and filling bushel bags: about 50 pounds per load. It's hard, sweaty work.

Apple season was just getting underway on Old Mission Peninsula, a finger of land poking into Lake Michigan, dotted with lush farms.

For writer Jesmyn Ward, Mississippi is a place she loves and hates all at once.

She grew up and still lives in the tiny town of DeLisle, Miss., close by the Gulf Coast, where, she writes, African-American families like hers are "pinioned beneath poverty and history and racism."

Berlin, 1940. A young Nazi officer is given a new mission: The Reich is sending him to Holland, to guard the exiled former German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. That's the premise of a new feature film, The Exception — it's a spy story, with steamy sex, intrigue and history rolled in.

He brooded, as Lincoln.

He seduced in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And he murdered, in There Will Be Blood.

This week, Daniel Day-Lewis — a three-time Oscar winner, and incomparable film chameleon — announced he is retiring from acting at 60.

A statement released by his spokeswoman gave no explanation, saying this is a private decision, and that Day-Lewis will have no further comment.

The actor has often taken lengthy sabbaticals between films, but this time it's apparently permanent.

So what will he be doing?

Alaska is home to about 18,000 fishermen who harvest nearly 6 billion pounds of seafood each year. Salmon dominates the catch, five species in all: chum salmon, sockeye, king, coho and pink.

For a taste of Alaska fishing life, we head out with a father-daughter fishing team as they go trolling for king salmon in the waters off Sitka, in southeast Alaska.

She kept getting confused, losing her place in lessons at the University of Utah, where she taught. And then, just before she turned 61, Gerda Saunders was given a diagnosis: She has early-onset microvascular dementia.

Saunders and her husband Peter are South African; they emigrated to the States back in the 1980s.

Before we headed out on our latest road trip for the Our Land series, we put a call out on social media, asking for ideas of places we should go in Arizona and New Mexico. Shannon Miller's suggestion really caught our attention: "White Sands are the only white gypsum 'sand' dunes in the world. They are actually crystals and it is beautiful."

How could we resist?

There's really no place like it on the planet: White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico. It's the world's largest gypsum dunefield, miles and miles of stunning white landscape.

Think about the avocados you mash for your Super Bowl guacamole, or the fresh tomatoes you enjoy in the winter. There's a good chance they came from Mexico.

Our southern neighbor is the United States' leading supplier of fresh produce, providing 70 percent of the fresh vegetables we import and more than 40 percent of our fresh fruit imports. That trade has boomed since NAFTA — the North American Free Trade Agreement — was signed in 1994.

We hear a lot about U.S. companies laying off workers and shipping jobs overseas.

So, amid the global pressures to downsize, how do you hang onto your workforce?

We went looking for answers in Chelsea, Mich., home to a family owned manufacturer that's managed to thrive over four generations, since the company's founding in 1907.

The Chelsea Milling Co. is better known as the manufacturer of Jiffy baking mixes. You know the ones. They come in those signature little blue and white boxes: mixes for muffins, cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, brownies and more.

Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed it "The Jewel of the Delta."

Booker T. Washington praised it as a model of "thrift and self-government."

Mound Bayou, in the Mississippi Delta: a town founded in 1887 by former slaves, with a vision that was revolutionary for its time.

From the start, it was designed to be a self-reliant, autonomous, all-black community.

For decades, Mound Bayou thrived and prospered, becoming famous for empowering its black citizens. The town also became known as a haven from the virulent racism of the Jim Crow South.

If you're in Clarksdale, Miss., home of the Delta blues, everybody says you have to go to Red's juke joint. The hole-in-the-wall club is the real deal. It's just a small room, a few tables and a fridge full of beer. Red lights are strung around a low ceiling. On the night we visit, octogenarian Leo "Bud" Welch plays in the center of the room, hunched over a sparkly, hot pink, electric guitar. Red Paden, the owner, sits out front, surveying from behind the bar.

We hadn't planned to visit William Faulkner's home on our visit to Mississippi. We didn't think we had enough time. But really, the temptation was too great: It seemed sacrilegious to leave Oxford without making even a brief pilgrimage.

So before we headed out to the Mississippi Delta, we stopped by Rowan Oak, the stately antebellum mansion Faulkner bought for $6,000 in 1930. He had just published The Sound and the Fury.

You want to find pigs? Go to Iowa.

It's the largest pork producer in the country. The ratio of pigs to people in Iowa is about 7 to 1.

I've had a hankering to spend some time on a farm for my series "Our Land." Over the next few months, I'll be out on a road trip, visiting communities large and small, and talking with people about what's important in their lives.

So with farming in mind, off to Iowa we went — to Buchanan County in northeastern Iowa.

What becomes of a town when its heyday has passed? What convinces young people to stay when good jobs vanish?

Those are questions many towns across America have been trying to answer for years.

And they were on my mind when I headed to Independence, Kan., with a dwindling population that's now below 9,000. It's in the southeastern corner of the state, not far from the Oklahoma border.

Independence has much to boast about.

A week away from turning 99 years old, Frances Kolarek has a long view of life and presidential elections.

Born in 1917, three years before women won the right to vote, she cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now, in 2016, she has cast her vote early for Hillary Clinton.

"I think she is undoubtedly the most qualified candidate for the presidency that we have seen in my lifetime," she says from her home at the retirement community where she lives, independently, outside Washington, D.C.

Imagine: the chance to live on an uninhabited tropical island for a month, off the grid, creating art.

No phone, no television, no Internet.

Instead, spectacular night skies, crystalline turquoise waters and extraordinary marine life on the coral reef just a short swim from your back door.

You might assume that with the thawing of relations between Cuba and the U.S., Cubans would see positive change at home, and less reason to attempt the perilous water crossing to Florida. You'd assume wrong.

U.S. law enforcement authorities are confronting a surge of Cuban migrants trying to make the journey by boat across the Florida Straits; it's the highest numbers they've seen in two decades.

One of the last medals awarded at the Rio Olympics went to a 21-year-old middleweight boxer from Flint, Mich.: Claressa Shields.

It was gold. With that Sunday victory, Shields became the first U.S. boxer ever to win back-to-back gold medals.

On the podium, after the medal was slipped around her neck, she reached into her pocket, pulled out her gold medal from the 2012 London Games and draped that one over her head, too.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

FARAI CHIDEYA, HOST:

Pages