Melissa Block

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.

As co-host of All Things Considered from 2003 to 2015, Block's reporting took her everywhere from the Mississippi 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 in 2008 brought the tragedy home to millions of listeners around the world. At the moment the earthquake hit, Block had the presence of mind to record a gripping, real-time narration of the seismic upheaval she was witnessing. Her long-form story about a desperate couple searching in the rubble for their toddler son was singled out by judges who awarded NPR's earthquake coverage the top honors in broadcast journalism: the George Foster Peabody Award, duPont-Columbia Award, Edward R. Murrow Award, National Headliner Award, and the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Now, as special correspondent, Block continues to engage both the heart and the mind with her reporting on issues from gun violence to adult illiteracy to opioid addiction.

In 2017, she traveled the country for the series "Our Land," visiting a wide range of communities to explore how our identity is shaped by where we live. For that series, she paddled along the Mississippi River, went in search of salmon off the Alaska coast, and accompanied an immigrant family as they became U.S. citizens. Her story about the legacy of the Chinese community in the Mississippi Delta earned her a James Beard Award in 2018.

Block is the recipient of the 2019 Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism, awarded by the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

Block began her career at NPR in 1985 as an editorial assistant for All Things Considered, and rose through the ranks to become the program's senior producer.

She was a reporter and correspondent in New York from 1994 to 2002, a period punctuated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Her reporting after those attacks helped earn NPR a George Foster Peabody Award. Block's reporting on rape as a weapon of war in Kosovo was cited by the Overseas Press Club of America in awarding NPR the Lowell Thomas Award in 1999.

Block is a 1983 graduate of Harvard University and spent the following year on a Fulbright fellowship in Geneva, Switzerland. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband — writer Stefan Fatsis — and their daughter.

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

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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.

The Rio Olympics are in the rear-view mirror. Thousands of athletes have returned home to resume their lives. But for many, this post-Olympic period can be a rough one, with depression and anxiety haunting them after the games.

That depression can affect both stars and lesser-known athletes alike.

Swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, has talked candidly about his downward spiral after the 2012 London games that led to a DUI arrest and time in rehab.

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:

The U.S. women's water polo team will be back in the pool on Friday, hungry for a second consecutive Olympic gold medal.

The women made it to the gold medal match after a decisive victory Wednesday against Hungary in the semifinals.

I watched that game with the mother of not one, but two players on Team USA.

Leslie Fischer of Laguna Beach, Calif., was sitting poolside, watching anxiously as the Hungarian players beat up on the U.S. team, including her daughters: Makenzie, 19, and Aria, 17, who's still in high school and the youngest player on the U.S. roster.

One story that's simmering at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has to do with sex: in particular, the controversy over intersex athletes, who are anatomically and genetically ambiguous.

At issue: Is it fair to allow those athletes, who often have high levels of testosterone, to compete with women?

Much of the attention has focused on South African runner Caster Semenya, the favorite to win gold in the women's 800 meters on Saturday. Semenya has been identified as intersex in many media reports, though she has never confirmed that or spoken about it.

At the Rio Olympics, there are the usual powerhouses:

Team USA, with 554 athletes. Australia, with 420. China, with 401.

And then there are the tiny countries: overwhelmed, but proud.

I went on a quest to find the tiniest of the tiny countries at the Summer Games. And I happened to find the delegation at the Olympic athletes' village, speaking a mashup of English and Nauruan.

They come from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ten athletes who are refugees are competing on the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio Games. They are representing the estimated 65 million people around the world who have been driven from their homes.

With six years of Olympic preparation behind him, American Jason Pryor took to the fencing strip in Rio on Tuesday.

When I caught up with him a few days before his match, he told me, "I've never been more ready for anything in my entire life."

Pryor, 28, from South Euclid, Ohio, is the top men's epee fencer in the U.S., and ranked no. 24 in the world.

His opening opponent is Benjamin Steffen of Switzerland, ranked no. 13.

There are still nearly two more weeks of events at the Rio Olympics. In fact, some sports haven't even begun competition yet — track and field, badminton and taekwondo among them.

But for a couple of hundred athletes in a few sports, their games are already over. Their events were held, start to finish, this past weekend.

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

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

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

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We are just a couple of hours away from the opening ceremonies at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Organizers say to expect lots of samba, of course, and a lot more. NPR's Melissa Block is in Rio and is with us now. Hey, Melissa.

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