Tavia Gilbert on Memoirs – the complete interview
Posted by: Mary Burkey
Narrator & author Gilbert‘s reflections on speaking another’s life story – so thoughtful and enlightening. Tavia shared her thoughts with me while I was preparing for the “Voices in My Head” column I write for the print edition of Booklist. But once I had included the equally wonderful thoughts of Mirron Willis and Dion Graham, I had to abbreviate all three narrator’s responses to fit my page limit. That’s why I LOVE that I have the chance to let blog readers read the complete interviews here! And what a perfect day to feature the divine Ms. Gilbert – stop by her Facebook page to wish her a Happy Birthday – and how fitting that she celebrates in #JIAM June is Audiobook Month !
Tavia Gilbert on the art of memoir narration:
As a non-fiction writer (I’m just about to begin my final semester of the creative non-fiction MFA at Vermont College), memoir and literary non-fiction are very close to my heart. Non-fiction, too, then, holds a special place in my work as a voice actor. When I read for pleasure, it is quite often memoir or another non-fiction narrative. So the voice of the author of the non-fiction work is of great interest and concern.
Whenever I am narrating something beautifully rendered, I believe my job is to fade away—to get completely out of sight of the listener—so that the language on the page is all that is present. Particularly when narrating memoirs, when the narrative voice is strong, the writing deep and honest and authentic, it is so pleasurable to absolutely relax into the voice of the author and give oneself over completely to the words. If an author has the technical skill, precision, and relaxation to create a rich performance, the listening experience can be profoundly moving. But if they do not have voice skills, their story deserves the most compassionate, most thoughtfully cast performance possible.
It intrigues me that I find it quite difficult to narrate my own material. This is, in part, because I am an emerging writer, at the very beginnings of practicing the writing craft, so my work is new to me. But part of it is that to narrate words I myself have written—my thoughts, my memories, my challenges—I must mine an even deeper vein in myself. The words are no longer on the page, they take form. That is an only slightly less vulnerable place to live than to perform one’s own words for a live audience.
I hope I continue to have the opportunity to voice other writers’ stories, stories about people creating lives of meaning and purpose, like Kristin Kimball’s wonderful The Dirty Life, or stories of transcendence and humanity, like Loung Ung’s incredibly brave First They Killed My Father. Those true stories are personally where my heart opens widest, and they teach me how to be a better writer and human being.
Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful thoughts, Tavia!!