Karen Grigsby Bates

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News. Bates contributed commentaries to All Things Considered for about 10 years before she joined NPR in 2002 as the first correspondent and alternate host for The Tavis Smiley Show. In addition to general reporting and substitute hosting, she increased the show's coverage of international issues and its cultural coverage, especially in the field of literature and the arts.

In early 2003, Bates joined NPR's former midday news program Day to Day. She has reported on politics (California's precedent-making gubernatorial recall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign and the high-profile mayoral campaign of Los Angeles' Antonio Villaraigosa), media, and breaking news (the Abu Ghrarib scandal, the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams).

Bates' passion for food and things culinary has served her well: she's spent time with award-winning food critic Alan Richman and chef-entrepreneur Emeril Lagasse.

One of Bates' proudest contributions is making books and authors a high-profile part of NPR's coverage. "NPR listeners read a lot, and many of them share the same passion for books that I do, so this isn't work, it's a pleasure." She's had conversations with such writers as Walter Mosley, Joan Didion and Kazuo Ishiguru. Her bi-annual book lists (which are archived on the web) are listener favorites.

Before coming to NPR, Bates was a news reporter for People magazine. She was a contributing columnist to the Op Ed pages of the Los Angeles Times for ten years. Her work has appeared in Time, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Essence and Vogue. And she's been a guest on several news shows such as ABC's Nightline and the CBS Evening News.

In her non-NPR life, Bates is the author of Plain Brown Wrapper and Chosen People, mysteries featuring reporter-sleuth Alex Powell. She is co-author, with Karen E. Hudson, of Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times, a best-selling etiquette book now in its second edition. Her work also appears in several writers' anthologies.

Bates holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College. Additionally she studied at the University of Ghana and completed the executive management program at Yale University's School of Organization and Management.

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Code Switch
10:23 am
Fri October 4, 2013

Actors With Disabilities In Big Roles? 'We Don't Have A Chance'

The original Ironside starred Raymond Burr as a detective who became a paraplegic after being shot in the line of duty.
The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 4:19 pm

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Code Switch
12:13 pm
Sat September 14, 2013

At Fashion Week, Color Pops And Models Call For Diversity

Marc Jacobs is among the designers who were named by the Diversity Coalition for not having enough models of color on the runway.
Emmanuel Dunand AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sat September 14, 2013 3:40 pm

Color continued to be a big deal on the New York runways during Fashion Week this week, but almost all the color was represented by the clothes being showcased in the new collections and not the models wearing them.

That lack of diversity has been a perennial problem in the fashion industry — at home and abroad — for at least the past 15 years. And while there may be an Asian or Hispanic girl from time to time (in this industry, everyone is a "girl"), discernibly black girls get token representation if they get it at all.

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Code Switch
4:00 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

Harlem On Their Minds: Life In America's Black Capital

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 7:38 pm

The poet Langston Hughes liked to wryly describe the Harlem Renaissance — the years from just after World War I until the Depression when black literature and art flourished, fed by an awakening racial pride — as "the period when the Negro was in vogue." Note the past tense. Two new books published Tuesday explore the blossoming of black cultural life in two different decades.

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Code Switch
11:56 am
Sat August 24, 2013

While Unsung in '63, Women Weren't Just 'Background Singers'

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, Miss., speaks to the state's Freedom Democratic Party sympathizers outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 1965.
William J. Smith AP

Originally published on Sun August 25, 2013 9:17 am

On that sweltering August day in 1963, almost a quarter-million people thronged the National Mall, from the Washington Monument to the columned marble box that is the Lincoln Memorial. The crowning moment, of course, was Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

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Code Switch
2:26 pm
Mon August 12, 2013

Medgar Evers' Son Honors Civil Rights Icon In His Own Way

After Medgar Evers was murdered, his wife, Myrlie Evers, carried on his work. This photo shows Myrlie Evers and her children, Van, 9; Darrell, 16; and Rena, 14, in June 1969 in their Claremont, Calif., home.
AP

Originally published on Mon August 12, 2013 6:06 pm

James Van Dyke Evers was only 3 when his father, Medgar, was assassinated in the driveway of the family's home in Jackson, Miss., in June 1963.

A sniper shot Medgar Evers in the back as he returned from a meeting late at night. Tensions had been running high because Evers, the first field secretary for the NAACP, was making headway in pushing the state's black citizens to register to vote. White Mississippians who had lived comfortably under segregation could feel the ground shifting beneath them — and they didn't like it.

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Code Switch
12:55 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Killed For Taking Part In 'Everybody's Fight'

Viola Liuzzo carries her shoes while walking with other civil rights activist before she was shot and killed in Alabama. Liuzzo-Prado says her mother walked barefoot whenever she could. "She just hated shoes." When her body was removed from the car she was shot in, she was barefoot.
Courtesy of the Liuzzo family

Originally published on Tue August 13, 2013 4:21 pm

For the past few months, NPR has been commemorating the monumental summer of 1963 by looking at watershed moments in the civil rights movement. In this three-part series, Karen Grigsby Bates talks with the children of civil rights leaders who lost their lives in the battle for racial equality.

In an obscure corner of Detroit, there's a battered playground honoring a civil rights martyr. It has an overgrown baseball field, some missing swings and on a broken fence, a worn, wooden sign.

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Code Switch
1:56 pm
Sun August 11, 2013

Amusement Parks And Jim Crow: MLK's Son Remembers

Martin Luther King Jr sits on a swing with his eldest daughter, Yolanda, and eldest son, Martin, at an amusement park he helped desegregate.
Courtesy of the King family

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 12:09 pm

In this three-part series, Karen Grigsby Bates talks with children of Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to see how they've coped with the burden and privilege of their legacies.

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Code Switch
2:37 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Key Witness Against Emmett Till's Killers Led A Quiet Life

Willie Reed (right) testified against the men accused of murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. He changed his last name to Louis after fleeing to Chicago and hardly spoke of the trial.
Charles Knoblock AP

Originally published on Thu July 25, 2013 3:43 pm

Willie Louis may be one of the most celebrated but least-known figures in a pivotal point in American history: He testified against the men accused of kidnapping and murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till. He died July 18, but his wife, Juliet, announced his death this week.

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Code Switch
10:53 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

Univision Clips 'Tweety's' Wings

Univision has canceled a popular Spanish-language radio show hosted by Eddie Sotelo, also known as Piolín or "Tweety Bird."
Damian Dovarganes AP

If you drive anywhere in greater Los Angeles, you know that you spend a significant amount of time staring at the bumper of the car ahead of you. And you may have noticed that a lot of those bumpers have red and yellow stickers that say "PIOLÍN por la MAÑANA." A lot.

The stickers show up on everything from sleek luxury cars to beat-up pickup trucks, and they advertise the morning drive-time radio show of Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo. (Piolín translates into "Tweety Bird" in Spanish—a gleeful moniker for the cheerful, diminutive host.)

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Code Switch
3:56 am
Sun July 21, 2013

Black Americans Welcome Obama's Entry To Race Discussion

A man holds up a sign at the "Justice for Trayvon" rally in downtown Chicago on Saturday.
Scott Eisen AP

Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 10:41 am

As soon as he made his remarks on race Friday, President Obama was part of an intense conversation around the nation.

In dozens of cities across the country on Saturday, protesters held coordinated rallies and vigils over the not-guilty verdict in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Many African-Americans insist that understanding the context for black distress over the Zimmerman verdict is key to honest discussions about race.

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U.S.
4:54 pm
Sun July 14, 2013

National Reaction To The Zimmerman Verdict: 'What Next?'

A woman, who refused to be identified, carries a young boy on her shoulders as she participates in a rally Sunday in Baltimore protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Florida shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Patrick Semansky AP

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 1:55 pm

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin is reverberating far beyond Florida. On Sunday, President Obama acknowledged the strong passions the verdict has incited. He asked Americans "to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son."

Many people are trying to make sense of a case that sparked a national conversation on race and gun laws.

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Code Switch
2:00 am
Sun July 14, 2013

With Fla. Verdict, Is Protective Clothing Still Required?

Many families live in dread of standing in the shoes of Trayvon Martin's parents. His mother, Sybrina Fulton (second from left) and father, Tracy Martin, were in court Friday as a Florida jury began its deliberations.
Gary W. Green AP

"I'm ashamed at how long it took me to realize why so many people in my family have been consumed with looking church-ready when they step out the door regardless of time or day."

That Facebook quote came from Phyllis Fletcher, an African-American colleague at KUOW in Seattle. And it reminded me of something my sister once told me when a white friend teased her about taking too long to get ready when they went on joint shopping expeditions. "Why are you getting all dressed up? Just throw on some jeans, like me, and let's go."

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Remembrances
2:34 am
Thu June 20, 2013

Actor James Gandolfini Dies Suddenly While On Vacation

Originally published on Thu June 20, 2013 5:25 am

The 51-year-old actor died on Wednesday in Rome. Reports attribute his death to a heart attack. Gandolfini had been a character actor for years before he was given a chance to read for Tony Soprano in a new series about a New Jersey mob boss HBO was producing in the late 90s.

Code Switch
10:09 am
Thu June 13, 2013

Moynihan Black Poverty Report Revisited 50 Years Later

Daniel P. Moynihan appeared before the Senate Government Operations subcommittee in 1966. He had conducted a study on poverty among blacks.
Bettmann Corbis

Originally published on Thu June 13, 2013 11:45 am

On Wednesday, the Urban Institute released a new report that revisits a famous study conducted almost 50 years ago by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The original study, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," was written by Moynihan when he was an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor. In the report, Moynihan listed a series of ills he argued had helped cause poverty in black America.

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Code Switch
1:36 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Barrier-Breaking Surfer's Legacy A Reminder Of Work To Do

Surfers surround a celebrant who pours libations and says prayers to honor the spirit of surfers past and present and to give thanks to the sea for providing sustenance and recreation.
Karen Grigsby Bates NPR

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 1:31 pm

The Saturday morning fog was burning off above the part of Santa Monica's beach known as the Inkwell. It's the stretch of sand to which black Southern Californians were relegated by de facto segregation until the 1960s.

Men, women and children walked across the sand in wet suits, carrying surfboards. They're part of the Black Surfers Collective, which aims to get more people of color involved in surfing.

They had gathered to honor pioneer Nick Gabaldon, a legendary surfer who is remembered as the area's first documented board man of African-American and Mexican heritage.

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Code Switch
3:26 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

History Makes Hiring Household Help A Complex Choice

Actress Marla Gibbs (as maid Florence Johnston) and actor Sherman Hemsley (as her boss, George Jefferson), appear in an episode of The Jeffersons.
CBS/Landov

Originally published on Sun May 26, 2013 4:39 pm

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Code Switch
2:26 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

Dumbfoundead: A Rising Star In A Genre In Transition

Korean American rap artist, Dumbfoundead performs at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., on March 26.
Lauren Rock for NPR

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 8:02 pm

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Around the Nation
1:26 am
Tue March 26, 2013

'American Winter' Families Struggle To Survive Fall From Middle Class

Pam Thatcher and her family ultimately moved into her mother's two-bedroom apartment because they couldn't make rent.
Courtesy Devon Terrilll Viewfilm productions/HBO

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 7:57 am

It's a visual no parent wants to picture: a child describing what it's like to live in a house with no power for lights, heat or cooking. For many middle-class American parents, it's hard to imagine their family ever facing a situation like that. But a new HBO documentary suggests that many seemingly prosperous parents are only a few misfortunes away from dark houses and empty refrigerators.

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Business
4:36 am
Sun February 10, 2013

Bloomingdale's Lays Out Welcome Mat To Chinese Shoppers

To mark the Lunar New Year, Bloomingdale's is catering to affluent Chinese tourists with an array of pop-up shops.
Courtesy of Bloomingdale's

Originally published on Sun April 7, 2013 6:04 pm

A number of luxury retailers are rolling out tactics this year to mark the beginning of the Lunar New Year. For Bloomingdale's in New York City, though, reaching out to Asian shoppers during the cultural celebration is a decades-long tradition.

The upscale department store's marketing strategy traces back to 1971, the year President Nixon lifted the U.S. trade embargo with the People's Republic of China. Immediately, Marvin Traub, then-president of Bloomingdale's, decided he wanted to sell Chinese goods in his flagship store on the Upper East Side.

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Arts & Life
1:22 am
Mon January 21, 2013

Aretha Franklin Was Already Famous, But Her Hat-Maker Wasn't

At the Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration of President Obama, Aretha Franklin's hat nearly stole the show. Her chapeau became a sensation, and made its creator, 36-year-old Luke Song, famous overnight.
Ron Edmonds AP

Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 10:54 am

After the first Obama inauguration, everybody talked about three things: the historic moment, the Arctic weather — and Aretha Franklin's hat.

If it is possible for a piece of millinery to steal the thunder of one of the most-watched moments in recent memory, the Queen of Soul's hat managed to do it. Her gray felt cloche was topped with a giant, matching bow, outlined in rhinestones that flashed in the chill sunlight as she sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

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Television
1:19 am
Fri January 11, 2013

'Living' In Color, Long Before 'Girls'

Living Single (1993-1998) featured four young, black, professional women in New York — including Queen Latifah as the ambitious head of a small magazine.
E.J. Camp Corbis

Originally published on Fri January 11, 2013 11:14 am

The second season of HBO's critically acclaimed series Girls begins Sunday night, but the show about 20-something girls navigating their social and work lives in New York has itself been criticized for not being diverse enough.

By now, most of you have heard the buzz about Girls: It's written by 26-year-old Lena Dunham, and stars a quartet of young women whose plans sometimes crash face-first into life's nasty realities.

The show's smart dialogue attracted writer Allison Samuels, a cultural critic for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

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U.S.
3:25 pm
Wed December 12, 2012

New Policy For Young Immigrants Creates Paperwork Deluge

A crowd seeks help applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in August. Schools have been inundated with requests for the documents needed to qualify.
Jonathan Alcorn Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed December 12, 2012 4:29 pm

In the six months since a new law opened a path to temporary legal status for some young immigrants in the U.S., more than 300,000 people have applied — and have rushed to request qualifying documents from their schools.

The law, Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, offers legal status, renewable every two years, to people ages 30 and younger who were brought to the country as children. Applicants must prove they were in the U.S. for five consecutive years — something most easily achieved through school transcripts.

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Movies
1:26 am
Tue November 20, 2012

Controversial Casting For A Nina Simone Biopic

Nina Simone (left) and actress Zoe Saldana are seen in this composite image. Saldana has been cast to play the late singer in a film biopic.
John Minihan/Frederick M. Brown Getty Images

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 9:35 am

The rumors that had been around for a couple of years have finally been confirmed: At long last, there's a film in the works about the turbulent life of Nina Simone, otherwise known as the "High Priestess of Soul."

Simone was famous from the 1950s through the '70s for her music and her civil rights activism. And although she died in 2003, her voice remains popular on TV, movie soundtracks and commercials.

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Digital Life
2:33 pm
Wed October 31, 2012

A Mohawk Hero In The Not-So-Diverse Gaming World

For the latest installment of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series, set in Colonial America, the hooded main character is part Mohawk. The company brought in a Mohawk consultant and hired a Native actor to play the role.
Courtesy of Ubisoft

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 3:49 pm

The Assassin's Creed video game series has become a megahit for gaming enthusiasts. The story line follows a bloody war between Assassins and the Knights Templar, first during the Crusades and then in Renaissance Italy.

The newly released Assassins Creed III crosses the ocean and a couple of centuries so the action could take place during the Revolutionary War and would be wildly anticipated on its own.

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Crime In The City
1:26 am
Mon August 20, 2012

Robert Crais: LA Is A 'Natural Canvas' For Nightmare

The canals in LA's Venice neighborhood serve as the scene of a murder in Robert Crais' 2011 novel, The Sentry.
David McNew Getty Images

Originally published on Mon August 20, 2012 11:50 am

It's been a few decades, and many published books, but Robert Crais can tell you exactly when mystery writing first caught his attention: He was a bright 15-year-old living in Baton Rouge, La., when he read Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister, which depicted the shady side of sunny Los Angeles through the eyes of private investigator Philip Marlowe.

Since then, Crais has found huge success with his own crime novels, also set in LA. The city is the perfect canvas for a modern mystery, and Crais' eyes still grow wide when he talks about what Chandler painted on it.

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Television
2:10 am
Thu July 26, 2012

At Bravo, A Pop-Culture Kingpin Works Day And Night

Andy Cohen on the set of his nightly Bravo talk show, Watch What Happens: Live. Cohen is also Bravo's executive vice president of development and talent, and has helped make Bravo a pop-culture heavyweight.
Heidi Gutman Bravo

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 8:35 am

Andy Cohen has been yakking for most of his 44 years. He has a book titled Most Talkative — a title he earned in high school.

"My mouth has been my greatest asset and also my biggest Achilles' heel," he says.

Most days, it's an asset.

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Art & Design
1:54 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

A Trailblazing Black Architect Who Helped Shape L.A.

The Degnan residence was built as a weekend retreat in La Canada Flintridge — a Los Angeles suburb reachable by freeway in 40 minutes (in light traffic) today, but that took a couple of hours' drive in 1927, before major freeway construction began in Southern California. This Spanish Colonial Revival home was Williams' first commission as an independent practitioner.
Copyright Benny Chan

Originally published on Fri June 22, 2012 6:37 pm

Paul Revere Williams began designing homes and commercial buildings in the early 1920s. By the time he died in 1980, he had created some 2,500 buildings, most of them in and around Los Angeles, but also around the globe. And he did it as a pioneer: Paul Williams was African-American. He was the first black architect to become a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923, and in 1957 he was inducted as the AIA's first black fellow.

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American Dreams: Then And Now
3:11 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Nailing The American Dream, With Polish

A model shows off an ABC student's work. Most of the students are studying manicuring.
Courtesy of Advance Beauty College

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 6:25 pm

If you've had a manicure in California, odds are the person at the other end of the emery board was of Vietnamese heritage.

Vietnamese immigrants now dominate California's nail-care industry — and make up a significant percentage of all manicurists nationwide.

The story began with a hurried immigration after the fall of Saigon almost four decades ago.

Sparked by the interest of a group of refugees and the help of a Hollywood star, the demand for affordable manicures quickly became the foundation of the American dream for many Vietnamese newcomers.

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Reporter's Notebook
6:18 am
Sun April 29, 2012

The L.A. Riots, As A Neighbor Remembers It

Smoke covers Los Angeles Thursday, April 30, 1992, as fires from the riots burn out of control.
Paul Sakuma AP

Originally published on Mon April 30, 2012 10:31 am

Twenty years ago Sunday, Los Angeles erupted into destructive riots after the verdict in the Rodney King trial. The violence lasted six days and left more than 50 dead and over $1 billion in damage. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates remembers; she lived in the one of the neighborhoods that went up in flames.

Several years ago, I interviewed Karl Fleming for the 40th anniversary of the Watts riots. He was a veteran journalist who'd covered the civil rights movement in the in the 1960s for Newsweek.

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Author Interviews
1:23 am
Mon April 23, 2012

Rodney King Comes To Grips With 'The Riot Within'

After suffering from injuries from the beating and struggling publicly with alcoholism, today Rodney King is contented, sober and engaged — to Cynthia Kelley, who served on the jury of King's civil trial against the city.
Morgan St. John

Originally published on Mon April 23, 2012 9:30 am

With a helicopter buzzing overhead, the videotape of Rodney King's encounter with police is so famous, you could say he was beaten into American history: The image of him writhing in pain as several Los Angeles police officers repeatedly beat, kicked and tasered him is, by now, world-famous — and synonymous with abuse of power.

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