Melissa Block

As special correspondent, Melissa Block produces richly reported profiles of figures at the forefront of thought and culture, as well as stories and series on the critical issues of our day. Her reporting spans both domestic and international news. In addition, she is a guest host on NPR news programs, and develops podcasts based on her reporting.

Great reporting combined with compelling storytelling is vital to NPR's future. No one exemplifies that blend better than Block. As listeners well know, she has an amazing ability for telling the important stories of our age in a way that engages both the heart and the mind. It is why she has earned such a devoted following throughout her 30-year career at NPR.

As co-host of All Things Considered from 2003 to 2015, Block's reporting took her everywhere from the 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 there in 2008 helped earn NPR broadcast journalism's top honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, duPont-Columbia Award, Edward R. Murrow Award, National Headliner Award, and the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Block began at NPR in 1985 as an editorial assistant for All Things Considered and rose to become senior producer. From 1994 to 2002, she was a New York reporter and correspondent. Her reporting after the attacks of September 11, 2001, helped earn NPR a Peabody Award.

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.

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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.

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.

When Haley Anderson competes at the Rio Olympics on Aug. 15, she'll be racing for about two hours in open water off Copacabana Beach. The marathon swim is not for the faint of heart. It's 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles.

What does it take? "A certain kind of crazy," Anderson said with a grin. "You have to be a little weird to wanna put yourself through two hours or more of pain."

It is the world's fastest racquet sport, with speeds up to 250 miles per hour off the racquet.

And it may be one of the most misunderstood.

Badminton — that staple of backyard picnics and summer camp — becomes, at the expert level, a sport that requires lightning-quick reflexes, explosive power, stamina and agility.

Mix swimming and basketball with soccer, toss in some wrestling for good measure, and you have a pretty good description of the exciting, fast-paced sport of water polo.

The U.S. women's water polo team is ranked No. 1 in the world and is considered the favorite to bring home the gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

Since women's water polo became an Olympic sport in 2000, the U.S. women have medaled every time, and they won their first gold in London four years ago.

Sharon Day-Monroe has been to the Olympics twice, in two different events. She's been the U.S. heptathlon champion three times. And she won four consecutive U.S. indoor pentathlon titles.

It's a hugely impressive resume. But at 31, she knows this may be her last shot at Olympic glory.

And that's always a challenge in the pentathlon, which requires an athlete to prove herself over two days in a wide range of skills: speed and strength; power and buoyancy.

It's already been a big year for high jumper Vashti Cunningham, and it could soon get even bigger. In March, the high school senior from Las Vegas set a world junior record and decided to forgo college competition and turn pro.

Now she has graduated and has her sights set on the Summer Olympics in Brazil, just over a month away.

Here are a few numbers to keep in mind:

6-foot-1: her height.

Tucked amid the tumult of Lower Manhattan's Financial District, right across from a factory-outlet shoe store promising "probably" the lowest prices in the city, you'll find Alexander Hamilton's grave. With the explosive popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton, that grave is seeing a surge of new fans coming to pay respects to the Founding Father.

Lillian Hasko has seen the musical twice, bought the soundtrack, and felt compelled to make the pilgrimage downtown.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Belgium officials ran a simulation Tuesday at Brussels' Zaventem Airport to figure out if it can at least partially reopen using new security measures demanded by the government.

It's been a week since the March 22 suicide bombings at the airport and on a subway several miles away. Since then, no commercial flights have gone in or out of this European capital and it's unclear when air traffic will resume.

Turn on the radio in Belgium and you get news of the terrorist attacks in French and in Dutch. Belgium is divided into Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia. There's a German-speaking area, too.

To make things more complicated, Brussels, the capital, is subdivided into 19 municipalities, each with its own government. And there are six local police forces.

It all adds up to a decentralized system, a dismantled federal state. And in light of last week's attacks, some have even gone so far as to suggest Belgium is a failed state.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Here's how I knew I liked Patti Trabosh.

It goes back to the very first time I called her out of the blue to ask whether I might profile her family for a story on opioid addiction. The very first words out of her mouth were, "I'm pissed off!"

Trabosh went on to explain why she was angry. First, it was the struggle to find a bed in a drug treatment program for her 22-year-old son Nikko Adam. He had become addicted to prescription painkillers and then heroin when he was still in high school. He'd been in rehab twice before, and relapsed both times.

The epidemic of opioid abuse that's swept the U.S. has left virtually no community unscathed, from big cities to tiny towns.

In fact, drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury death in this country: more than gun deaths; more than car crashes.

When President Obama travels to Cuba next month — the first visit by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years — it will mark a historic step on the path to normalizing relations with the island nation.

While Obama is in Havana, two U.S. businessmen are hoping the president might spend some time with them — or even take a seat on a prototype of the tractor they plan to assemble and sell in Cuba.

Editor's note: NPR's Melissa Block was on a reporting trip to southwest China in May 2008 when a massive earthquake hit, leaving some 90,000 dead or missing. Now, as she wraps up her time hosting All Things Considered, she reconnected with a girl, now a young woman, who has overcome great obstacles since that traumatic event. The original version, published in English, is here.

Editor's Note: NPR's Melissa Block was on a reporting trip to southwest China in May 2008 when a massive earthquake hit, leaving some 90,000 dead or missing. Now, as she wraps up her time hosting All Things Considered, she reconnected with a girl, now a young woman, who has overcome great obstacles since that traumatic event.

You can also see this story in Chinese.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The U.S. Postal Service just released its stamp honoring the late poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. There was a big ceremony yesterday.

(APPLAUSE)

BLOCK: Oprah was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Drive down gravel Road 22 in Nebraska's York County, past weathered farmhouses and corn cut to stubble in rich, black loam soil, and you'll find a small barn by the side of the road.

Built of native ponderosa pine, the barn is topped with solar panels. A windmill spins furiously out front.

Known as the Energy Barn, it's a symbol of renewable energy, standing smack on the proposed route of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline — a project of the energy giant TransCanada.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Keystone XL - for years now, the pipeline has been tied up in polarizing argument about energy, jobs and the environment. Keystone's been argued in the U.S. Congress, in state court, at protests around the country and on late-night television.

President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address the influx of immigrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate Appropriations Committee is holding a hearing Thursday about the request.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Morning Edition host David Greene talks to Melissa Block about his recent reporting trip to Cuba. Specifically, he speaks about a young man named Isbel Diaz Torres, a new kind of Cuban activist. Greene argues that Torres' interests serve to extend Cuba's socialist revolution, rather than oppose it.

The New York Times has announced that Dean Baquet, the newspaper's managing editor, will replace Jill Abramson as the executive editor. Both Abramson and Baquet were named to their current jobs in 2011. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik comments on the move.

Today Cotulla, Texas, is reaping the benefits of an oil and natural gas boom in the Eagle Ford Shale. But in 1928, the South Texas town was incredibly poor — and that's how Lyndon Johnson saw it when he had his first job there at age 20.

South Texas is in the midst of a massive oil boom. In just a few years, it has totally transformed once-sleepy communities along a crescent swoosh known as the Eagle Ford Shale formation and has brought unexpected prosperity — along with a host of new concerns.

Among the towns drastically changed by the drilling is Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio, about 70 miles up from the border with Mexico. The area is called brush country — flat, dry ranch land, scrubby with mesquite and parched by drought.

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