AfroPunk Acts To Free Your Mind And Your … Ears


People participate in the annual Afropunk Music festival on August 27, 2016 in New York City.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

People participate in the annual Afropunk Music festival on August 27, 2016 in New York City.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The AfroPunk Festival in Brooklyn has grown since the annual event began in 2005. As it has expanded, so have the choices it offers: you can see everyone from Ice Cube to George Clinton, to Brit Rockers Skunk Anansie. There’s a lot to catch, so here are five artists to keep an eye out for, at the festival and beyond.

Jasmine’s picks:

Laura Mvula

This gentle, thoughtful and funky performer might not be a household name for many in America. But in England, Laura Mvula is a pop and soul phenomenon. You may have heard her on the soundtrack of the 2013 film 12 Years A Slave (look for the aching “Little Girl Blue”). Her latest album The Dreaming Room, was released earlier this year, and it features the instrumental crew of the London Symphony Orchestra. Part of Mvula’s charm is her many contradictions: she has said that she never intended to become a musician, yet has an otherworldly talent. Her voice rings strong and assertive, her presence can be intimidatingly cool, but her lyrics explore her struggles with anxiety and paralyzing stage fright. Her sound might be softer and more melancholy than others in the AfroPunk universe, but her frankness about her vulnerabilities is about as punk as it gets.

Skunk Anansie

I’ve been listening to Skunk Anansie since the late 90s, and had never been able to catch them live. After they went on hiatus in 2001, I gave up on that dream. So this weekend is a very special treat. The 1990s effervescence of Brit Pop, new punk and grunge rock had been a white man’s world. Skunk Anansie came onto the scene as something completely different: Skin, the lead singer, self describes as a “black, bald-headed, bisexual Amazonian” from a working class background. Although very soft spoken in interviews, her vocals are rich, vibrating whispers. And if the weakness of great 90’s rock was that it was navel gazey in its melancholy, Skunk Anansie’s provocative “Intellectualise My Blackness” and “Selling Jesus” were completely refreshing to those of us who wanted the sound, but with less whining please. I recommend you check them out, and pay your respects to Brit rock royalty.

Kiana’s picks:

Tyler, The Creator

This video contains profanity and other language that listeners may find offensive.

Advisory: This video contains profanity and other language that may be offensive.

YouTube

Alongside one of hip-hop’s most rebellious pioneers, Ice Cube, and funk architect/living legend George Clinton, California’s appropriately self-titled Tyler, The Creator leads this year’s Brooklyn-based AfroPunk lineup. If we’re being honest, it was a long time coming; he’s checked “other” on the hip-hop ballot box from day one. Since his start, he’s sanded down the edges of his jagged entry into the genre by homing in on the punk style popularized by Pharrell and N*E*R*D. If you go back in his discography, you can hear flashes of his true musical desires underneath the silly, debatably offensive, joke raps he kicked with his friends on his early mixtapes and his debut album, Goblin. By the time he followed up with his second studio album, 2013’s Wolf, Tyler was taking himself and his sound a bit more seriously. On last year’s Cherry Bomb, he finally dove headfirst into the style and resurfaced as the perfect candidate for a festival that prides itself on in-your-face otherness. There’s never a dull moment with Tyler, The Creator, both musically and performance-wise. Pro tip: If moshing isn’t up your alley, you might wanna stand in the back for this one.

Xavier Omär

Formerly known as SPZRKT (pronounced Spazzy Rocket), singer Xavier Omär came up quick last spring. Alongside producer and Soulection favorite Sango, Omär catapulted to prominence amidst the feeding frenzy of underground talent bubbling up through the SoundCloud platform. The two, outspoken Christian musicians, collaborated and wound up with Hours Spent Loving You, an EP which intertwined messages of appreciation of the love found on earth and in heaven. (To put things into perspective, the standout track was titled “JMK,” short for “Jesus My King.”) Shortly after the release, the vocalist changed his name from SPZRKT, and made a concerted effort to work within a more secular space, hoping to make a bigger impact on the industry through broader messaging. He’s succeeded thus far by lending his voice to projects helmed by women: DJ Kitty Cash’s collaborative mixtape, Love The Free Vol. III, and Chicago rapper Noname’s astoundingly astute debut project, Telefone. If you’re looking to explore a gentler side of AfroPunk, Omär is your perfect entry point.

Nikki Giovanni

One of the most enticing qualities of AfroPunk is its openness to the interpretation of the word “punk.” By adding poet Nikki Giovanni to the bill, the festival is showing that punk comes in various forms and countless definitions. Now 73, Giovanni teaches as a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, where she’s been for nearly three decades. But the Tennessean and literary giant’s journey has been filled with moments of being an inquisitive outlier, propelled by defiance and self-sufficiency. Her first book was published through a company that she created herself, and her degree from Fisk University came after she was expelled, then re-admitted. Just as she was throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the Grammy-nominated Giovanni remains a poignant voice of authority on black identity and social issues. Poetry can be punk, too.

First-Time Nominations Reveal The Changing Face Of The Emmys


Actress Constance Zimmer attends the 21st annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on on January 17, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.

Mike Windle/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Mike Windle/Getty Images

Actress Constance Zimmer attends the 21st annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on on January 17, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.

Mike Windle/Getty Images

Constance Zimmer has built a long career playing tough, unsentimental women, including a shady operative on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a hard-nosed journalist on Netflix’s House of Cards.

And the role which earned Zimmer her first Emmy nomination this year — reality TV producer Quinn King on Lifetime’s UnREAL — could be TV’s most caustic villain.

So it’s a little surprising that when you ask the actress how she feels about the meaning of her nomination, she almost cries.

“It’s a true milestone for me,” says Zimmer, 45. She says she’s a lot more sentimental and open-hearted than the characters she usually plays on TV.

“People say, ‘Over 40, that’s when it slows down.’ But for me, it’s only picked up,” Zimmer says. “They are writing more characters for women in television after their 40s, because that’s when we really know what is going on. … We’re more confident and we’re more secure and we have more things to show.”

Years ago, there were so few quality roles, especially for women, that the Emmy academy often nominated the same people again and again. Murphy Brown star Candice Bergen famously stopped entering the contest after winning five Emmys as best actress in a comedy series.

First-timers

This year, the academy has nominated a bunch fresh faces in high-profile acting categories, handing first-time nods to Louie Anderson (FX’s Baskets), Martin Mull (HBO’s Veep), Keri Russell (FX’s The Americans), Rami Malek (USA’s Mr. Robot) and Zimmer.

The influx of first-time nominees hints at deeper changes in the TV industry, including an increase in high-quality, sophisticated series and better roles written for a wider diversity of performers.

Zimmer credits the explosion of high-quality scripted shows across broadcast, cable and streaming for the change.

“There’s so many more venues where you can be seen,” she says. “Somebody like Rami Malek, he’s probably been working for years. But you get that one part that gets enough buzz, that gets enough eyeballs, that people go, ‘Oh, this is incredible.’ “

The method of acting

Indeed, Malek does have a long acting career on great TV shows, with stints on Gilmore Girls, 24 and HBO’s Emmy-winning miniseries The Pacific. But it wasn’t until he played emotionally-damaged hacker Elliot Alderson on Mr. Robot that Emmy came calling with a nomination for best actor in a drama series.

Actor Rami Malek on May 20, 2016 in New York City. Malek plays a hacker on the USA show Mr. Robot and has been nominated for an Emmy.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Peabody Awards


hide caption

toggle caption

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Peabody Awards

Actor Rami Malek on May 20, 2016 in New York City. Malek plays a hacker on the USA show Mr. Robot and has been nominated for an Emmy.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Peabody Awards

Malek, 35, says he talked with a psychologist to figure out how to play Alderson. The hacker sees his dead father as a living being, played by Christian Slater — the embodiment of more destructive elements from Alderson’s own psyche.

The actor cites a moment from the second season to show how research helped him shape the role.

“There’s that moment in the first episode of the second season where Christian Slater [as Alderson’s dead father] pulls a gun on him and pulls the trigger,” Malek says. “I bring myself up and I look him in the eye and ask him if he’s done. As I turn to go back to the desk, you can kind of see the fear that I’ve been trying to push deep down inside kind of come up into my face and slip a little bit of my eyes. That was a moment where I felt like we really could understand Elliot.”

Non-actors might see a showy, powerful scene like the courtroom confrontation between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men as an example of great acting. But Malek says the definition of quality acting is a little simpler — and subtler — than that.

“[It’s] just an authenticity that sucks you into [that] world,” he says. “It makes you almost forget what you’re watching … that you’re sitting in a theater or sitting on the couch. It’s a transcendent experience.”

The best of the big screen is going small

Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. says he’s sensing a “seismic shift” in Hollywood, after he earned his first Emmy nod as best actor in a miniseries or movie for his role as O.J. Simpson in FX’s anthology series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. (L) and director John Singleton at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 6, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. The two earned their first Emmy nominations this year.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. (L) and director John Singleton at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 6, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. The two earned their first Emmy nominations this year.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In the past, Gooding says, an actor might stretch his talent and develop a bond with a great director while working on a low-budget independent film, hoping to work on bigger projects with that director as he or she becomes more successful. There are drawbacks, though: low pay and little money for the production.

“Well now, you have those same scripts [on TV], but they’re not sacrificing production value,” says Gooding, 48. “They’re not truncated to a two-and-a-half-hour tale. They’re eight hours. They’re 10 hours. And you have the finances to get it right.”

Twenty-five years ago, Gooding first worked with director John Singleton, another first-time Emmy nominee who is benefiting from the same trends the actor describes.

Together Singleton and Gooding made the landmark film Boyz n the Hood in 1991, bringing an explicit view of the gang violence in Los Angeles’ South Central neighborhood to an international audience.

This year, they reunited on American Crime Story, for which Singleton also earned his first Emmy nomination. He directed the episode “The Race Card,” which tells its story through the points of view of the three black men at the heart of the Simpson trial: prosecutor Christopher Darden, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran and Simpson.

“It’s probably one of the [rare] times on television you’ve seen three distinct, multilayered black men who had their own perspective,” says Singleton, 48. “Usually when they have black characters on a show, they’re in the same socio-economic class, either low or high, or they make them cops — they’re all uniform. They may be played by different actors, but they’re all kind of uniform.”

Singleton says TV work has made him a “brand new man,” unlocking a wealth of opportunities he could never have imagined back when he, Gooding and co-star Ice Cube were making history with Boyz.

“When I was 22 years old and I did that movie, I still had one foot in the streets,” says the director, who is now developing TV projects with FX and BET. “I didn’t think I’d make it past 25 or 30 years old. Doing all this wasn’t even on my radar at all.”

Doing “great stuff just as a pure show”

Comic actor Aziz Ansari picked up three first-time nominations for his Netflix show, Master of None, highlighted as a writer, director and actor.

Nominees in acting categories must submit an episode to the TV academy for final judging. Ansari, 33, provided a touching episode featuring his character’s mother and father and their experience as immigrants titled “Parents.”

Comedian Aziz Ansari on May 21, 2016 in New York City. Ansari is nominated for three Emmys as a writer, director and actor in Master of None.

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Peabody


hide caption

toggle caption

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Peabody

Comedian Aziz Ansari on May 21, 2016 in New York City. Ansari is nominated for three Emmys as a writer, director and actor in Master of None.

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Peabody

But he also hopes people won’t overlook the idea that beyond its fresh takes on culture, race and the families of immigrants, Master of None also is a pretty good relationship comedy.

His example: an episode he considered submitting called “Mornings,” in which his character struggles in a relationship with his live-in girlfriend. The story is told almost entirely in their apartment through their interaction in the mornings over a long period of time.

“I do a lot of these interviews about the show, and a lot of times there’s a focus on the diversity and the cultural aspect of it,” Ansari says. “I think we did a lot of great stuff just as a pure show. The romantic arcs in our season, I’d put it up against anything. And we did have white people on our show that did a great job,” he laughs.

We’ll learn if the TV academy’s taste for new faces extends to the winner’s circle during the Emmy awards ceremony Sept. 18.

If more than few newcomers convert their nominations into wins, it will be an important sign that TV’s establishment has fully recognized a fresh crop of trailblazers in television’s new golden age.

A Hero For The Arts And Sciences: Upcoming Marvel Covers Promote STEAM Fields


Invincible Iron Man — featuring the debut of a new hero, Riri Williams — is one five books Marvel is using to promote science, math, and arts disciplines through a series of covers.

Courtesy of Marvel


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Marvel

Invincible Iron Man — featuring the debut of a new hero, Riri Williams — is one five books Marvel is using to promote science, math, and arts disciplines through a series of covers.

Courtesy of Marvel

Typically superheroes spend their summertime helming big budget franchises for movie studios. This year, with blockbuster season winding down and schools opening their doors, Marvel’s following up its summer at the multiplex by giving its superheroes a new assignment.

Last week, the publisher unveiled the last of five special covers featuring disciplines that guide school curricula nationwide — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, also known as STEAM. It’s part of an effort, the company says, to encourage young readers to double-down on their studies and explore fields said to lead to better jobs.

“We plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that — following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead,” David Gabriel, Senior VP for Sales & Marketing of Marvel Comics said in a statement.

Available in November, the covers are alternative prints of several titles. Famous heroes such as the Hulk and Spiderman make appearances. So do lesser-knowns Gwenpool — an amalgam of Spiderman’s Gwen Stacy and meta-jokester Deadpool — and kid genius Moongirl.

The covers also coincide with the debut of Marvel’s new Iron Man, Riri Williams, a 15-year-old engineering prodigy, who is also featured.

Moongirl and Spiderman.

Courtesy of Marvel


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Marvel

Readers may notice that Marvel’s tapped a diverse field of heroes for the covers — characters Riri Williams and Moongirl are African-American, and Spiderman Miles Morales is of Hispanic and African-American descent — all working in fields in which educators and officials say women and minorities are underrepresented.

“The media literally shapes what people aspire to be,” said Virginia Booth Womack, president of the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates.

Womack also oversees recruitment and retainment efforts for students from underrepresented communities at Purdue University’s College of Engineering. She says part of getting students to feel like they belong involves seeing people who look like them engaged in their field, in their own communities and the wider culture.

“The power that the media has to give students the opportunity to emulate is huge,” Womack says.

Keri Randolph, director of Innovation for Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., says one thing she loves about the comics is they’re depicting women and minorities.

The other, she says, is that the comics are putting science upfront for students.

“When you go to the movies or read a comic there’s such a suspension of disbelief. We don’t necessarily pause and go: ‘that already exists or it could exist,'” says Randolph.

Marvel is not alone in underlining science in pop culture for the sake of engagement.

Last year, the National Science Foundation partnered with with the National Nanotechnology Initiative to challenge high school-aged students to consider nanotechnology by creating a superhero who’d express what the field could accomplish. Entrants ended up thinking of ways nanotechnology could be used to fight cancer and eradicate waste.

And Jacob Blickenstaff, a program director at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, regularly incorporates pop culture in his approach. Writing a column for the National Science Teachers Association, he regularly points to lesson plans teachers can extract from popular entertainment, even when science is apparently absent.

Gwenpool and Champions

Courtesy of Marvel


hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Marvel

“They’ve been watching Frozen so let’s talk about what ice is really like,” says Blickenstaff.

Unsurprisingly, drawing from the artistic imagination to spur kids into scientific thought is a view that resonates with proponents of the STEAM curriculum, which adds the arts to the well-promoted STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

“How do you solve these problems we’re going to have in the future like clean water and climate change? It requires a lot of imagination and creative thinking to deal with these global challenges,” says Babette Alina, director of policy for the Rhode Island School of Design.

The art and design college has been working to integrate science within its curriculum, having students enroll in courses that direct their creative skills toward the sciences and seeking grants to fund interdisciplinary programs.

But as vital as ensuring potable water or rolling back the effects of climate change may be, they lack the whizz-bang factor that enables Captain America to wield his shield or Spiderman to use arachnid-like powers to catch bad guys.

Neuroscientist Paul Zehr, a pop culture blogger for Psychology Today, has written two books on the science of superheroes examining existing technologies that would allow Batman to sustain his nightly duties and Tony Stark to build an array of armored suits.

“I think too often that’s the part that’s missing,” says Zehr about engaging students. “They don’t get the imaginative part.”

What comics and pop culture can do is allow imaginations to run unconstrained, Zehr argues, sometimes letting them predict technological advances before they happen, like Star Trek‘s communicators — or an example Zehr points to from Iron Man. A comic from the early 1990s depicted schematics for Tony Stark’s titular suit. Then in the 2000s, Zehr found an academic article on brain and machine interface – and it bore a striking resemblance.

“Science is what-if,” Zehr says. “What if this works? What if I did this in my lab tomorrow?”

Nina McLemore’s Clothes Are A ‘Weapon’ Of Powerful Women




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What do Hillary Clinton, Janet Yellen, Elena Kagan and Elizabeth Warren all have in common? Yes, they’re all powerful women in government and politics, and they’ve all worn clothing by Nina McLemore. You probably recognize the look, even if you don’t know her name. Her work is packed with details that might not matter to fashionistas, but matter greatly to executives and other power players – TV-ready colors, tailoring that shows off a woman’s figure, but not too much.

She’s been called a weapon in the wardrobes of women in power. Since many women are planning their fall wardrobes now, we thought this was a good time to talk with her, and she was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Nina McLemore, thanks so much for speaking with us.

NINA MCLEMORE: You’re welcome.

MARTIN: Now, you do have a background in fashion. We know that you were an executive of Liz Claiborne for many, many years. But are you trained in fashion design – or how did you come to this?

MCLEMORE: I think I had the best trainer because my mother, who was an artist, she and I, together, made everything I wore while I was growing up. And she had very high standards, and everything had to be hand-made, hand-sewn. So I could have anything I wanted. What could be better?

MARTIN: So how did you get to be the go-to designer for women in power?

MCLEMORE: Well, you mentioned the years with Liz Claiborne, and she was the go-to designer for young women going into the workforce. I retired and then realized that there was no one who had picked up from where that had left off. There really wasn’t anyone who was focusing on those women. So that’s really how we started the business.

MARTIN: The Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan wrote in The Post that your softly tailored jackets over the years have both shielded and celebrated women. How do you feel about that?

MCLEMORE: Well, I think the, you know, all the research shows that the more diverse a company or a board or a government is, the better the outcomes. And so that’s celebrating women because we need to make sure that women are seen as successful, competent leaders. And the shielding is that if you look at a man’s suit, men are always shielded. You really don’t see much about their bodies. And so in the workforce, you don’t want people concentrating on what you look like.

MARTIN: So what I think I hear you saying is that women are looking for a kind of a language – a fashion language – that is both feminine and authoritative.

MCLEMORE: That’s correct. And the challenge is men have two uniforms. They’re either wearing a suit or they’re wearing khakis with roll-up sleeved shirt. And women don’t have that kind of uniform. And so women are trying to create this authoritative look. And I think the jacket is really the key part of it because when you sit down at the table, most of the time the men have on jackets. So you have on a jacket, and it does not call attention to the shape of your body.

MARTIN: I just – I want to point out that there will be some people who will be offended by the mere fact that you and I are having this conversation. Some people feel that there is just entirely too much conversation in general about the clothing that visible women wear. What do you think about that?

MCLEMORE: I think the answer is very easy. Regardless of what people want to think, we all make the decision about some new person that we’ve just met instantaneously about who they are. We are hardwired to determine whether somebody is a friend or a foe. So I think you absolutely can’t avoid it, but I also think it’s an important conversation.

MARTIN: A lot of people are planning their fall wardrobes now. There are a lot of young women who are just starting their careers. What’s your advice?

MCLEMORE: Well, I think it’s really the same almost for everyone. Clothing should fit well, not too tight, not too loose, quality of fabric. I think you should always buy the best quality you can afford and color. I would never do pale pink in my collection. It’s not a strong color. You don’t look strong when you walk in the room.

MARTIN: So what are some strong colors?

MCLEMORE: Well, the best color is blue with a touch of red in it, almost going to the purple side. Those are the colors that are pretty universal in how they look on everybody.

MARTIN: And what are you wearing today, Nina McLemore?

MCLEMORE: Bright red with just the right amount of mix of blue and yellow in it, but it’s very strong bright red. It’s American-flag red.

MARTIN: OK. That’s Nina McLemore. She’s CEO of Nina McLemore. It is a clothing company that is a favorite of powerful women around the country, particularly here in Washington, D.C. We caught up with her in New York. Nina McLemore, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MCLEMORE: Thank you, and have a great weekend.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

In Tom Wolfe’s ‘Kingdom,’ Speech Is The One Weird Trick


One of America’s most distinguished men of letters says he believes that speech, not evolution, has made human beings into the creative, imaginative, deliberate, destructive, and complicated beings who invented the slingshot and the moon shot, and wrote the words of the Bible, Don Quixote, Good Night Moon, the backs of cereal boxes, and Fifty and Shades of Grey.

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first non-fiction book in 16 years. Wolfe tells NPR’s Scott Simon that speech is “the attribute of attributes,” because it’s so unrelated to most other things about animals. “We’ve all been taught that we evolved from animals, and here is something that is totally absent from animal life,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On animal communication

There are no traces of any evolution of language through the sounds that apes make, or dolphins, for that matter. It is something that is completely new, and the reason for that is, it’s an invention, invention by human beings, who are the only creatures who are able to perform this trick. And the trick is, you convert sounds into codes. And the code may be t-r-e-e “tree,” or it could be “typhoon,” there’s no telling. But it enables this creature, man, to remember things … as a result, human beings rule every other creature in the world.

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first book of nonfiction in 16 years.

Mark Seliger


hide caption

toggle caption

Mark Seliger

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first book of nonfiction in 16 years.

Mark Seliger

Physically, we are really pretty pathetic … our dominance in the world is all thanks to this trick of coming up with these codes.

On Darwin and speech

He could not figure out what it was. He assumed, because of his theory, that everything evolved from animals. And didn’t even include it in his theory, language, until he decided that it came from our imitation of the cries of birds. And I think it’s misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals — actually, nobody knows whether they did or not. There are very few physical signs, aside from the general resemblance of apes and humans. The big evolution, if you want to call it that, is that this one species, Homo sapiens, came up with this ingenious trick, which is language.

On whether he’s worried that creationists will begin to cite his work as scientific proof

I wouldn’t think so, because there’s not a shred of whatever that depends at all on faith, on belief in an extraterrestrial power. In fact, I hate people who go around saying they’re atheists, but I’m an atheist.

On what speech enables us to do

It’s enabled us to think up strategies, to head off what you think might be about to happen. And strategies depend upon memory, and speech is a fantastic memory device. There’s absolutely nothing like it, and I think it’s time for people who are interested in evolution to say that the theory of evolution applies only, only to animals.

Nina McLemore’s Clothes Are A ‘Weapon’ Of Powerful Women




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What do Hillary Clinton, Janet Yellen, Elena Kagan and Elizabeth Warren all have in common? Yes, they’re all powerful women in government and politics, and they’ve all worn clothing by Nina McLemore. You probably recognize the look, even if you don’t know her name. Her work is packed with details that might not matter to fashionistas, but matter greatly to executives and other power players – TV-ready colors, tailoring that shows off a woman’s figure, but not too much.

She’s been called a weapon in the wardrobes of women in power. Since many women are planning their fall wardrobes now, we thought this was a good time to talk with her, and she was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Nina McLemore, thanks so much for speaking with us.

NINA MCLEMORE: You’re welcome.

MARTIN: Now, you do have a background in fashion. We know that you were an executive of Liz Claiborne for many, many years. But are you trained in fashion design – or how did you come to this?

MCLEMORE: I think I had the best trainer because my mother, who was an artist, she and I, together, made everything I wore while I was growing up. And she had very high standards, and everything had to be hand-made, hand-sewn. So I could have anything I wanted. What could be better?

MARTIN: So how did you get to be the go-to designer for women in power?

MCLEMORE: Well, you mentioned the years with Liz Claiborne, and she was the go-to designer for young women going into the workforce. I retired and then realized that there was no one who had picked up from where that had left off. There really wasn’t anyone who was focusing on those women. So that’s really how we started the business.

MARTIN: The Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer Robin Givhan wrote in The Post that your softly tailored jackets over the years have both shielded and celebrated women. How do you feel about that?

MCLEMORE: Well, I think the, you know, all the research shows that the more diverse a company or a board or a government is, the better the outcomes. And so that’s celebrating women because we need to make sure that women are seen as successful, competent leaders. And the shielding is that if you look at a man’s suit, men are always shielded. You really don’t see much about their bodies. And so in the workforce, you don’t want people concentrating on what you look like.

MARTIN: So what I think I hear you saying is that women are looking for a kind of a language – a fashion language – that is both feminine and authoritative.

MCLEMORE: That’s correct. And the challenge is men have two uniforms. They’re either wearing a suit or they’re wearing khakis with roll-up sleeved shirt. And women don’t have that kind of uniform. And so women are trying to create this authoritative look. And I think the jacket is really the key part of it because when you sit down at the table, most of the time the men have on jackets. So you have on a jacket, and it does not call attention to the shape of your body.

MARTIN: I just – I want to point out that there will be some people who will be offended by the mere fact that you and I are having this conversation. Some people feel that there is just entirely too much conversation in general about the clothing that visible women wear. What do you think about that?

MCLEMORE: I think the answer is very easy. Regardless of what people want to think, we all make the decision about some new person that we’ve just met instantaneously about who they are. We are hardwired to determine whether somebody is a friend or a foe. So I think you absolutely can’t avoid it, but I also think it’s an important conversation.

MARTIN: A lot of people are planning their fall wardrobes now. There are a lot of young women who are just starting their careers. What’s your advice?

MCLEMORE: Well, I think it’s really the same almost for everyone. Clothing should fit well, not too tight, not too loose, quality of fabric. I think you should always buy the best quality you can afford and color. I would never do pale pink in my collection. It’s not a strong color. You don’t look strong when you walk in the room.

MARTIN: So what are some strong colors?

MCLEMORE: Well, the best color is blue with a touch of red in it, almost going to the purple side. Those are the colors that are pretty universal in how they look on everybody.

MARTIN: And what are you wearing today, Nina McLemore?

MCLEMORE: Bright red with just the right amount of mix of blue and yellow in it, but it’s very strong bright red. It’s American-flag red.

MARTIN: OK. That’s Nina McLemore. She’s CEO of Nina McLemore. It is a clothing company that is a favorite of powerful women around the country, particularly here in Washington, D.C. We caught up with her in New York. Nina McLemore, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MCLEMORE: Thank you, and have a great weekend.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

In Tom Wolfe’s ‘Kingdom,’ Speech Is The One Weird Trick


One of America’s most distinguished men of letters says he believes that speech, not evolution, has made human beings into the creative, imaginative, deliberate, destructive, and complicated beings who invented the slingshot and the moon shot, and wrote the words of the Bible, Don Quixote, Good Night Moon, the backs of cereal boxes, and Fifty and Shades of Grey.

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first non-fiction book in 16 years. Wolfe tells NPR’s Scott Simon that speech is “the attribute of attributes,” because it’s so unrelated to most other things about animals. “We’ve all been taught that we evolved from animals, and here is something that is totally absent from animal life,” he says.

Interview Highlights

On animal communication

There are no traces of any evolution of language through the sounds that apes make, or dolphins, for that matter. It is something that is completely new, and the reason for that is, it’s an invention, invention by human beings, who are the only creatures who are able to perform this trick. And the trick is, you convert sounds into codes. And the code may be t-r-e-e “tree,” or it could be “typhoon,” there’s no telling. But it enables this creature, man, to remember things … as a result, human beings rule every other creature in the world.

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first book of nonfiction in 16 years.

Mark Seliger


hide caption

toggle caption

Mark Seliger

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first book of nonfiction in 16 years.

Mark Seliger

Physically, we are really pretty pathetic … our dominance in the world is all thanks to this trick of coming up with these codes.

On Darwin and speech

He could not figure out what it was. He assumed, because of his theory, that everything evolved from animals. And didn’t even include it in his theory, language, until he decided that it came from our imitation of the cries of birds. And I think it’s misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals — actually, nobody knows whether they did or not. There are very few physical signs, aside from the general resemblance of apes and humans. The big evolution, if you want to call it that, is that this one species, Homo sapiens, came up with this ingenious trick, which is language.

On whether he’s worried that creationists will begin to cite his work as scientific proof

I wouldn’t think so, because there’s not a shred of whatever that depends at all on faith, on belief in an extraterrestrial power. In fact, I hate people who go around saying they’re atheists, but I’m an atheist.

On what speech enables us to do

It’s enabled us to think up strategies, to head off what you think might be about to happen. And strategies depend upon memory, and speech is a fantastic memory device. There’s absolutely nothing like it, and I think it’s time for people who are interested in evolution to say that the theory of evolution applies only, only to animals.