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In June 2020, Arthur was inducted as a Golden Voice, AudioFile's lifetime achievement honor for audiobook narrators.
How did you get started with narrating?
When I began, I was managing editor of Renaissance Books, a publishing company that was also producing audiobooks. I was given the chance to start narrating myself. Years earlier, I had worked as an actor and singer and also as a writer and ghostwriter of plays, screenplays, and lyrics. In the years between I taught, mostly writing, mostly at Northwestern. After I’d been narrating a few years I began to see that through various career changes, I’d been training for this profession from the beginning. It should be added that my father was a figure in local radio and his brother a successful writer of books for teenagers. I grew up around a lot of character work and storytelling.
What is the most interesting piece of research you’ve done for an audiobook? Hard to narrow this down. Joseph Campbell’s four-volume Masks of God had at least 2,500 names of gods and heroes to check. (I found no certifiable experts in paganism.) I’ve liked working directly with authors and translators. The author of Descent into Chaos—full of Dari, Pashtun, Urdu and Arabic—had to be tracked down in Spain.
You narrate a lot of nonfiction—what do you enjoy about the genre?
Nonfiction books open a conversation between reader and writer. She’s guessing who her readers are and how to persuade us. We try to determine where she is coming from, whether she has a hidden agenda, how believable her research and arguments are. The writer may be describing a time or place we know something about.
Does what she says track with what we think we know?
Along the way, we almost certainly discover a lot about ourselves. I argue with books. Don’t we all? Autobiographies are particularly interesting; there are so many elements interacting. The author has a dialogue going between who she is and her writer’s persona. Sometimes there’s a huge difference. Which voice am I trying to understand and interpret? Which version of the writer do I speak for? Mentally, I’m still talking with authors I read years ago. I hope the reader connects with the texts as well as the authors and I connected.
June 2012—Award-winning audiobook narrator Arthur Morey is an accomplished actor, writer, writing teacher, and singer. He's written movie scripts, plays and is currently working on a play about actor Edward Lear and a translation of a book written in the 1600s. Morey credits his success as a "translator" of written text into audiobooks with his education in how narrative works. "I got very lucky and got to go to very good schools. I was taught about taking texts apart.
I was at the University of Chicago, and I got to study with some very interesting people, including Saul Bellow. And we would take a book or a novel or classical literature or philosophy, and we'd sit with it for 10 weeks and talk it through. And I think now that helps me take a book apart."
Morey makes a point of treating both fiction and nonfiction titles as stories that follow characters through their individual journeys. But there are times when original source material can help create the overall sound of an audiobook. "I did a book on President McKinley, and there are a very small number of recordings of his voice. So I listened to them. I try to get a sense of a character by listening to him or her. It helps me work all that out."
There are times when the author gets a chance to help in the production of an audiobook. Morey says he's committed to making sure an audiobook serves the author's original vision. While working with novelist E.L. Doctorow, Morey says, he was directed not to "act" but to "make sure that Doctorow came through and not me. Actually, Danielle Steele asked for the same thing. That's a funny pair of people, isn't it? You might get a flatter performance that way, but it's my job to serve the material. I try to get out of the way."
Morey has recorded the works of literary giants like John Updike, John Irving, Richard Russo, and Anne Tyler. He says he knows his performance is working if the people in the recording booth are reacting. "If I can get the director to weep, than I feel like I'm doing a good job. In the book MINISTRY OF SPECIAL CASES, there's a tremendous scene between a father and son that just knocked me out. I have a son, and it's not always easy. Those things get to me." And it's not just fictional works than can bring a tear to Morey's eye. "I did a book on Hiroshima that was so appalling and so moving that I would have to stop and take a deep breath before I could go on."--Randy O'Brien
Photo courtesy of narrator
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