NPR Staff

It's difficult enough to start an orchestra, but Zuhal Sultan founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) as a teenager in the middle of a war. She brought together 40 young musicians from different Iraqi cities and sectarian backgrounds in an effort to unify a divided nation. Now, six years later, the Euphrates Institute has named her Visionary of the Year.

Editor's note on Oct. 28: Because of safety concerns, Khaled's last name has been removed from this page.

Khaled is one of the few Syrians to have made it to the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war. Even here, though, the 31-year-old remains in limbo, unsure of how long he'll be allowed to stay.

For now, Khaled lives in Southern California. When he spoke with NPR's Arun Rath, Khaled spoke of his life in Syria before the war.

Years ago, in the small town of Maiden, N.C., a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a storage locker, and in it he found a grill. When he took both of them home and opened the grill, he discovered something he hadn't been expecting: a mummified human leg.

Most people — one presumes — would've have wanted to get rid of the leg as soon as possible. Whisnant, however, wanted to keep it. Trouble is, the original owner of the limb, John Wood, wanted it back. He'd had to have that leg amputated years earlier.

Human smugglers prey on the desperation of people who flee war and oppression. They've made millions moving people across borders, without regard to safety. Thousands have died, locked in packed trucks or trapped in sinking ships — like the "ghost ships," crowded with Syrian refugees, which have been set on course to crash into the Italian coast.

Today, Noramay Cadena is a mechanical engineer, fitted with multiple degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But she came by her motivation in a place much different from the MIT classrooms: a factory in Los Angeles where her mother brought her one summer as a teenager.

In case you missed it: The full audio of Pope Francis' speech to a joint meeting of Congress (at the link above), paired with his prepared remarks and analysis from Morning Edition.

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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.

Do you keep up with international news?

This quiz will give you a chance to find out.

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.

You probably never will see most of Jason deCaires Taylor's public art projects firsthand — at least, not without goggles and fins.

Most of his sculptures stand at the bottom of the sea. His life-size statues — ghostly figures of men, women and children — seem to walk the ocean floor as they hold hands, huddle, even watch TV.

What kind of messages get ignored? What kind prompt you to do something?

Those are questions that a small group of behavioral scientists at the White House has been working on since early last year.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences Team is seeking ways to improve government efficiency and access to government programs through easy, low-cost interventions.

Welcome to the third session of the Morning Edition book club! Here's how it works: A well-known writer will pick a book he or she loved. We'll all read it. Then, you'll send us your questions about the book. About a month later, we'll reconvene to talk about the book with the author and the writer who picked it.

Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Jill Scott's new album Woman takes a deep dive into what it means to love.

Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer are British actresses and best friends — who just happen to also play British actresses and best friends on TV.

In HBO's Doll & Em, fictional (but familiar) versions of each take center stage: A successful actress named Emily invites her childhood friend Dolly to come out to Hollywood to be her personal assistant after a bad breakup.

Among the first firefighters on the scene when wildfires broke out in eastern Washington this summer was a crew of juveniles — inmates, actually. The crew, teens aged 15 to 19, were building fire lines and digging trenches. Hard work, in difficult conditions.

Last month, one teenager escaped from the work camp and later shot himself during a standoff with police. He has since recovered.

The program, however, may not. One of the few of its kind in the country, it is now under review.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Isaac Feliciano dropped his wife off at the subway so she could get to her job at Marsh & McLennan, in the south tower of the World Trade Center. Then, he headed to work himself — at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he's worked for the past 21 years.

When the plane struck the tower, even as far away as he was, Feliciano was still able to see the damage firsthand.

Ten years ago, actor Wendell Pierce went home for a vacation between recording seasons of the hit HBO show The Wire.

As he stepped off the plane in New Orleans, the airport was chaotic. A massive hurricane called Katrina was closing in on the city.

"I was telling my parents 'Nah, let's just ride it out. Let's just stay,' " Pierce tells NPR's Arun Rath. "I went out that Saturday night and I kind of bluffed my parents and said 'Well, if they make it a mandatory evacuation, we'll leave.'

"That Sunday morning they did, and that's when I knew it was serious."

Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic-language version of Sesame Street, has re-debuted in the Middle East after a 25-year hiatus.

Cairo Arafat remembers watching the show with her younger siblings back in the 1980s.

Honey bees are being rustled.

Thieves are hijacking hives and renting the bees and their queens out to farmers to pollinate their crops. With the global collapse of the bee population, the crime is becoming even more lucrative.

It's an issue in the U.S., in California's Central Valley, but most recently, another bee theft caught our attention. On the tiny island of Angelsey, off the coast of North Wales, Felin Honeybees, a farm and education center, has been hit twice in the last month.

If you've ever seen Jesse Eisenberg's byline in The New Yorker or on McSweeney's Internet Tendency and thought, "Wait, that Jesse Eisenberg?" — the answer is yes.

Eisenberg, best-known as an Oscar-nominated actor, is also a writer — the author of numerous plays and, now, a collection of comedy writing called Bream Gives Me Hiccups.

Solitary confinement is a widely used — and controversial — practice in U.S. prisons. But this week, a landmark legal settlement between inmates and the state of California could mark a big step toward changing that situation.

Seeing no other options to help get her brother Abdullah's family out of Syria and to safety, Teema Kurdi sent him money to get them onto a smuggler's boat that would take them to Greece.

"We actually would say we encouraged them to go, because his brother made it, and there was no other hope," he told NPR's Rachel Martin in an emotional interview. "We don't see the war ending in Syria; life in Turkey is hopeless."

Soul singer Lizz Wright is starting over. Her new album, Freedom & Surrender, comes after a tough few years, during which she left behind a failed marriage and her own expectations about starting a family. And yet, she found a creative spark in that loss, along with a new kind of voice.

There may be an octopus arms race underway. And that's not even a joke about tentacles: Octopuses are actually fighting, and potentially using weapons.

The creatures are hardly team players under the best of circumstances.

Teenagers often feel bound by their parents' rules, and many young people feel isolated at some point, separated from the rest of the world.

But what would life be like for a young woman who was literally isolated — and bound by rules designed to save her life?

It's a question that author Nicola Yoon explores in her new novel for young adults, Everything, Everything. For 18 years, her lead character, Madeleine, has been kept inside a sterile house, interacting only with her mother and her nurse.

The California condor is big. In fact, it's the largest flying bird in North America with a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet.

Michael Mace, curator of birds for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, tells NPR's Arun Rath that the condor "is like the 747 compared to a Cessna if you look at it proportionally with other species like eagles and turkey vultures."

Mace works in a condor power line aversion training program at the zoo. It was developed to address the condors' unfortunate run-ins with power lines.