Voicing a Cause: Dion Graham

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Dion Graham: gifted narrator, speaking out for causes dear to his large heart. I caught up with what’s new from Booklist Voice of Choice Graham, a multi-talented actor, narrator, director, and producer – a natural choice to feature in “Voicing a Cause,” an occasional look at members of the audiobook community using their role to give back. I started our conversation with questions about all things audio, and then learned more about two wonderful efforts where Graham has put his talents to work: the Pa’s Hat Foundation and Going Public…In Shorts.

Dion, your work as an actor has taken you from stage to screen and into the audiobook sound booth.  How have your experiences in front of live audiences and while working collaboratively with a television cast informed your work as an audiobook narrator? And conversely, how has your stellar career as a narrator affected your other pursuits as an actor? 

Great question, Mary. I think my work in all the various realms has led me to be more open to my own creative impulses, to allowing myself to be free in responding to the material. I approach each book differently based on how I respond to the author’s writing. It’s exciting to take imaginative risks in audiobook narration, allowing the narration to be as bold or as simple as the piece requires.
And it’s a big circle. My narration informs my acting in  the same way.

Your audiobook credits run the gamut – a spectrum of genres for all ages, with your performances always establishing a strong connection with the listener. Are there special considerations that you keep in mind when recording a picture book title for a very young listener as opposed to that of a classic work for an adult?

Another good question! What I try to keep in mind is the audience I’m that I’m bringing the story to life for. How would I tell this story to  young person? If it’s a picture book, what are the illustrations telling us? If it’s a mystery or a western or a classic that’s targeted toward adults, how can I best channel the book to illuminate the author’s intent? Sometimes books have audiences that range across age and genre. I’m always interested in finding a way for the listener to organically connect to the story. Of course, it’s told through the lens of how I connect to the story. For me, it’s not formulaic. It depends on how I respond to the material. But by all means, I do think it’s important to bring it to life. Listeners respond to that.

In your role as audiobook director, you were recently nominated for the Audies Awards for both Children’s Titles for Ages Up to 8 and  Distinguished Achievement in Production. Are you exploring new paths in audio production? 

Well, I guess you could say that I AM exploring new paths in audio production via directing and producing. I’m very proud of We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart, though it’s not the first thing I’ve directed in audio or otherwise. I’m particularly proud because it’s the first time that a read-along picture book was recognized with a Distinguished Achievement In Production nomination so that says something about the quality of content, performance, and production. Certainly We Are America – with poetry by author Walter Dean Myers and illustrations by Christopher Myers –  is much more than a simple picture book for kids. It speaks to us all. I’m delighted to continue my collaboration with Arnie Cardillo at Live Oak Media and honored that he asked me to direct it. Check it out folks, it’s a great listen! And there are other interesting things coming.

Two recent projects show your desire to give back – tell us a little about the Pa’s Hat Foundation and your meeting with the president of Liberia.

Thanks for asking about the  Pa’s Hat Foundation, Mary! Yes, I recently founded Pa’s Hat Foundation with colleague Cori Thomas. We’re both co-directors. We established it to support arts education work with some of the former child soldiers in Liberia. Our aim is to to do some rigorous work together that we also hope will be fun. In this way we hope to provide an opportunity for growth and development for these young folks who have lost so much of their childhood to what they were forced to do. We also hope, in some small way, that The Liberia Project will be a source of healing. In due time we intend to expand the project to a wider participant group in Liberia. It’s likely that a documentary will follow the work that we do together which we intend to be ongoing.
We’ve recently returned from a very successful few weeks there getting the project off the ground – you can see a photo at the top of this post. We met with a number of possible young participants and others. And we were granted a private audience with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who was most gracious and very supportive of our venture. I’m excited by our prospects and the challenging work ahead of us. We plan to be on the ground again in Liberia in 2014 after some successful fundraising.
You can find out more on our Facebook page,  https://www.facebook.com/PasHatFoundation and tax deductible donations can be made at http://www.pashatfoundation.org. Click on the flag!

I’ll be speaking with Xe Sands here on Voicing a Cause – tell me about your involvement in this cause.

Lastly, yes, I’m very happy to have participated in Going Public…In Shorts put together by Xe Sands. Several narrators contributed narrations of short pieces to benefit Reach Out and Read, an organization that promotes literacy for young children. The entire compilation is reasonably priced and all proceeds go to Reach Out and Read. I narrated Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. That historic speech has always seemed a call to reach across boundaries to promote healing. Considering the times we’re living in, it seemed like a worthy choice.

What new titles are coming up for your audiobook fans?

In case folks are interested upcoming recordings are: The Double, the second book in the Spero Lucas series by George Pelecanos, Cave of Wonder (Infinity Ring, Book 5), and Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer.

Thanks so much for taking time for Audiobooker, Dion. It’s always great to have you share your thoughts here!

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About the Author:

Mary Burkey is a National Board Certified teacher-librarian in the Olentangy School District in Columbus, Ohio.

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