Award-winning narrator Nicol Zanzarella describes herself as a “chatty Italian girl from New York who feels so very fortunate to get to narrate audiobooks.” Looking back, this path seems natural--she grew up surrounded by storytellers at large family dinners with “lots of voices and opinions and lots of love and lots of food. Always there were stories and sagas that played out from week to week.”
She was also introduced early to the booth. For years she’d accompany her dad on weekends to a local radio station he ran, where she’d sit “quiet as a mouse” in the booth with the DJs, watching and listening. “They were my babysitters,” she laughs.
Zanzarella’s titles span multiple genres in fiction and nonfiction, and she’s celebrating a milestone: “I just put book 201 on my calendar!” As a narrator whose work ranges from the data-driven scholarship of THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE Capitalism to the quiet, character-driven novel IN THE DISTANCE WITH YOU, she’s constantly gauging what’s required of her and adapting her approach. Still, how she envisions her role remains constant: She sees herself as a storyteller and strives to cultivate compassion and empathy by sharing stories of all kinds, helping people learn about one another’s lives and in doing so, encouraging perspective, understanding, and deeper human connections.
Recently, Zanzarella narrated Vanya Erickson’s BOOT LANGUAGE--an indie-published memoir chronicling the author’s turbulent life with a distant Christian Scientist mother and an explosive war-vet father. “It’s such a poignant story, but because it was her experience, she told it in a very matter-of-fact way. One of my biggest challenges in narrating was keeping my emotional responses at bay--keeping my own reactions more neutral to allow her stories to come through. Meanwhile, I wanted to reach out and hug this little girl who was trying to navigate her own growth while also dealing with the growth--or lack thereof--of her parents.”
A meticulous researcher, Zanzarella relished the opportunity to connect with Erickson when preparing for the project. The author offered valuable background information along with some concrete tips--for example, how those in her Northern California region might pronounce words differently from those in other regions. (“Nevada: Nuh-VAD-duh. Not the Nev-AH-dah my East Coast relatives say.”) Zanzarella says attention to such moments is critical to her work. “These are the really wonderful, important, and authentic details that I love to uncover when preparing an audiobook. Just noting these words and pronunciations was so helpful-- it immediately helped set the feeling of time and place.”
Zanzarella’s life is very full. In addition to acting and narrating, she loves recording audio descriptions of film and television for the blind community. An amateur boxer, she enjoys the sport as a way to prepare for a day in the booth--or to unwind from one. Growing up, she loved the “guilty pleasure” of watching a good cop show with her dad; she’s looking forward to narrating a few stories featuring gritty female detectives. “I get to tell some stories coming up with hard-core badass women who are juggling how to be emotional, empathetic, kind--and also tough when we need to be.”--Jessie C. Grearson
©AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine
Photo by Jon Strotheide
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