Stories of racism, injustice, hate, and sexual violence are all too common in today’s world. Too often, young people find that they don’t fit neatly into the molds that society prefers–they differ somehow, whether by race, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic status, and so much more. They may have different needs because of physical abilities or cognitive, developmental, intellectual, and/or mental health challenges. Growing up in today’s world can be terrifying and disheartening, and many young people feel that they are entirely alone and misunderstood.
This is a tough environment in which to thrive. In response, writers, poets, artists, and musicians have been banding together in order to provide young people with the courage and hope that they need in order to break down barriers and find loving and supportive communities. The books and anthologies that have emerged are colorful and diverse, brimming over with poems, artwork, letters, songs, and stories. They can be read in pieces, small loving notes to treasure and hold until they are needed most. They can (and should) be read again and again, as we can never have enough encouragement and love.
Translating these works into audio is no small feat. The choice to employ a full-cast necessitates careful sound engineering; transitions between narrators should be smooth so that the listener’s attention remains entirely focused on the book. With so many differences in the volume, pitch, and timbre of the narrators’ voices, it’s no wonder that the choice to employ a full-cast can make or break an audio. We applaud the publishers and producers who have recently decided to enlist the voices of many narrators rather than settling for just one. This is a difficult task, but when done well, it makes for a truly powerful listening experience.
Below, we have highlighted two full-cast audiobooks that have been published in recent months. These audiobooks are both notable, as they move beyond simply reading the book and instead honor the book’s intention with a multi-layered, nuanced approach. As listeners, we appreciate that these audiobooks display the talents of so many voices, particularly narrators of color who speak with unmatched authenticity, clarity, and candor.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, read by Bahni Turpin, Guy Lockard, N’Jameh Camara, Darrell Dennis, Kyla Garcia, Dominic Hoffman, Cheryl Hudson, Curtis Hudson, Wade Hudson, Sullivan Jones, January LaVoy, Jennifer Lim, Soneela Nankani, and Adenrele Ojo. 1 hour, 41 minutes. Listening Library, 2018.*
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is an anthology of essays, poems, and songs which combines the voices of talented narrators Bahni Turpin, Guy Lockard, January LaVoy, Soneela Nankani, and so many more. This collection comes from a place of love. Editors Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson gathered these stories, poems, and songs in order to provide children with hope and courage when confronted with racism and hate. It is an antidote to violence and injustice and is intended to remind children that they come from a community that loves and supports them. The narrators seem wholly invested in this important project, and their voices are filled with understanding and conviction. They speak with heartfelt emotion, tempered with a touch of sadness and lot of understanding. Vibrant, even groovy, music adds a perfect finishing touch, including original music by Curtis Hudson and the classic song, “Get on Board,” by the great Paul Robeson. To echo Jacqueline Woodson’s words, this audio is a “blanket of love that each of you is wrapped in,” a tapestry of caring voices and encouraging words for children and families to treasure during tumultuous times.
Nevertheless, We Persisted, read by Vikas Adams, Jonathan Davis, Ari Fliakos, Sullivan Jones, January Lavoy, Soneela Nankani, Adenrele Ojo, Nancy Wu, and Gabra Zackman. Forward written and read by Senator Amy Klobuchar. 7 hours, 5 minutes. Listening Library, 2018.
Nevertheless, We Persisted is a collection of essays about persistence, strength, and courage in the face of adversity. The entries in this book span a wide range, touching on the experiences of people differing in age, gender, race, religion, sexuality, and country of origin. The factor that unites their voices is some kind of difficulty faced and overcome during their young adulthood. The stories themselves are powerful, and that power is magnified in hearing them. I think this is the kind of project that really benefits from being produced as an audiobook and being read by a robust full cast. It brings the essays in their diversity and similarities off the page and into the imagination of the listener- from the struggles of a teen activist to the concerns of a young athlete to the recollections of a Holocaust survivor. The narrators lending their vocal talents to this project are also all top-notch, and they put their best into the production, displaying the gravitas and heart needed to showcase these extraordinary stories.
Both of these audiobooks are eligible for the 2019 Odyssey Award. Most Odyssey Award winners and honor titles are read by single or dual narrators. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a powerful full-cast production be recognized this year?