NPR Staff

Kevin Henkes was just a teenager when he decided he wanted to write picture books. He landed his first book contract when he was still in college.

"People used to assume that I had kids long before I did," he tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. He eventually had children of his own, but that didn't change his writing process the way one might have expected.

Writer Percival Everett is a man of the West: the region, for him, is a place of calm and comfort, danger and extremes. His new collection of short stories, Half an Inch of Water, is set largely in Wyoming, where Everett lived for a time and which he says might be his favorite state. ("It's so sparsely populated," he says as praise.)

But the prolific author wrote his new book far away from that iconic landscape.

"I wrote these while I was in Paris," Everett tells NPR's Arun Rath. "I was living in Paris, and for some reason I started writing ranch stories.

For those who have never seen the show American Ninja Warrior: Imagine an Army obstacle course, redesigned by Dr. Seuss and a team of rock-climbing acrobats. Competitors have to thread their way through the daunting obstacles, completing a number of stages before they can hope to finish the whole thing.

As an album title, Introducing Darlene Love sounds like a throwback, in the spirit of Here's Little Richard or Meet the Beatles. In fact, it's something closer to a joke: The woman behind these songs has been making music for 50 years, and it only took a few decades for people to learn her name.

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The wildly successful prime-time soap opera Empire is back: Season 2 kicks off next week.

The Season 1 finale brought in 17 million viewers — despite the conventional wisdom that the days of broadcast television drawing in audiences like that are over.

Antony Britton literally dug his own grave — and it very nearly killed him.

Britton, an escape artist in the tradition of Harry Houdini, had been attempting a stunt Houdini made famous: Britton was handcuffed, shackled, plopped in a grave and buried under 6 feet of dirt.

There's something to know about that particular "Buried Alive" stunt: Even Houdini himself couldn't pull it off. In fact, part of the reason it's still remembered today is that Houdini failed, and nearly died along the way.

When Chinelo Okparanta started writing her novel Under the Udala Trees, she didn't have to look far for inspiration into her main character's tragic backstory.

"My mother watched her father die in the war, the same way my protagonist does," the Nigerian-American author tells NPR's Arun Rath. She's referring to the 1967 Biafran War in Nigeria — a civil war that was catastrophic for the Igbo people, who had tried to secede from Nigeria and form their own nation of Biafra.

In Europe, fewer and fewer borders remain open to migrants and refugees arriving from the Middle East. Croatia is redirecting refugees to neighboring Hungary, even as Hungary says it's overwhelmed — and extends its own border wall.

All of this has left migrants bereft of clear answers and buffeted by contradicting information.