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The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family AudioFile Best of 2009 Biography & Memoir
Freelance director and narrator Karen White was actually holding a copy of AudioFile magazine when she joined the audiobook world in 1999. To get in the door, she had been advised to call every California producer listed in AudioFile's annual "Reference Guide." So she did. Producer extraordinaire Dan Musselman offered her an editing job, which was soon followed by working as his assistant at Books on Tape. "I did it all--editing, casting, directing, narrating--and learned so much."
White also credits Shakespeare. "Shakespeare used about 27 words per line rather than the seven words we usually speak. Perfect preparation for audiobook narration! Plus, there are what--two and a half women to every 10 men in the average Shakespeare play?" As Artist in Residence with Shakespeare & Company in 1987, White took on men's roles. "I played everyone from Orlando in "As You Like It" to the Duke in "A Comedy of Errors." All those male characters made me comfortable speaking as a man in narrating an audiobook."
White now works from home--actually, from her garage. "My poor husband. He had just redone the garage into the perfect man cave when I got the opportunity to work at home." At first, they hung sound blankets from hospital curtain tracks. "I recorded THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO in there. Thirty hours in summer surrounded by blankets in a closed garage!" For her labors, she garnered rave reviews and a step-up to a real WhisperRoom recording booth.
Aided by a clear voice that is more contralto than soprano, White records everything from business books to memoirs to children's books. "I'm so lucky to work with audiobook companies such as Tantor Media. They take on books that the bigger publishers don't, which gives women narrators opportunity." Good books with few reviews are rarely chosen for audiobooks, explains White. "And women writers are reviewed much less than men. That lack of attention trickles down." Additionally, publishers often assign female narrators only to books written by women.
"A memoir is one thing," says White, "but there's no reason a female narrator can't do a history, science, or economics book written by a man." Witness White's awards for everything from THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO to INSIDE OF A DOG. Work and awards are good, but it's reading itself that matters to White. "Reading saved me as an adolescent," she says. So this library volunteer who founded a student "readathon" is delighted that audiobooks create a new way to consume books. Her fifth-grade child, she says, reads a book first and then listens to it. Her second grader listens first--on her own iPod while knitting. The entire family listens while driving. "Plus, I get to read aloud all day. How lucky is that?"--Aurelia C. Scott April/May 2011
Passionate, flawless, steady, compelling: These are just some of the words AudioFile's reviewers use to describe Karen White's narrating style. Whether she's dissecting financial scandals (Erin Arvedlund's TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE) or giving listeners access to the inner lives of dogs (Alexandra Horowitz's INSIDE OF A DOG), White draws listeners into compelling nonfiction accounts and then takes a step back, letting the facts take the stage, front and center, just where they should be. Listeners are guided but never overwhelmed, no matter how complicated a story she's telling.
Professional profile here
Photo © Blake Gardner
Photo by Kate Mejaski
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