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?"

Jihae Shin was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, preparing to enter the academic job market. She had set her sights on finding a fabulous faculty position, but wasn't sure she was going to get one.

The safe thing was to have a backup plan — to apply for a number of other jobs as well. But the thought of doing so made her worried: would the presence of the backup options diminish her motivation to get the job she really wanted?

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.

Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren left the International Space Station on Friday for their second spacewalk in less than two weeks. Their assignment was to configure a vent door on the port side ammonia tank. That meant they were outside the space station, tied only with a tether, floating in outer space.

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

As part of a series called My Big Break, All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

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.

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.

In this extended version of NPR's interview with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, portions of which aired earlier this week on Morning Edition, the presidential candidate makes his case differently. Having been wrong-footed several times by his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Sanders is joining the battle more forcefully and talking more personally than in the past.

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.