I have two jobs that I love: literature professor and audiobook narrator. Both, of course, are centrally connected to my abiding love of books. And both grew out of my undergraduate experience as a double major in English and Theatre Arts. At the same time that I was learning to read, write about, and love literature of all kinds, I was learning how to become an actor. I never thought back then that I would be able to incorporate all of that training into my everyday life through this dual career.
On the surface, my two jobs probably seem pretty different from each other. And in some ways that’s true. My “day” job means that I teach a pretty wide variety of undergraduate and graduate classes, from surveys of British literature and introductions to literary studies, to courses on Shakespeare (my particular interest), Jane Austen, fairy tales, and African-American women writers. I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to teach both in and out of my field of expertise. I also have to do a fair amount of my own writing; I’ve published an academic book and am currently working on a second one, and am constantly writing shorter essays as well. (This takes forever, incidentally; academic writing and publishing moves verrrrryyyyy sloooowwwwly. I’m sure Sarah will have written and published a dozen books by the time my next one is finished!) Audiobook narration, on the other hand, is purely creative, engaging my voice and mind in the service of someone else’s writing. As a narrator, I want to make the listening experience as enjoyable as possible, while also realizing the author’s vision.
Despite these differences, I think both of my jobs draw on many similar skills. At root, both teaching and narrating mean that I read books, think about what they mean, and try to communicate that meaning to others. Yes, teaching means discussing those meanings with a room full of students, and narrating means sending the book out into the world for listeners to engage with. But at root I think they’re actually pretty similar. In both my jobs I get to share my love of literature with other people and celebrate the endless creative possibilities of various literary genres (I’ve narrated and taught romance, dystopian, SFF, YA, horror, action, military, historical, and literary fictions, among others, as well as drama and poetry).
The one edge that narration has over teaching is that I actually interact with the authors whose work I’m voicing. They’re not only alive (usually) but I get to ask them questions about their intentions and vision for their books. This is a hugely enjoyable aspect of the process, and one I just don’t get with my teaching. (I wish I did!)
In addition to my two careers, my most enjoyable occupation is being a mom to my seven-year-old daughter, and fortunately my narration skills come in handy here too. We’re currently working our way through the Harry Potter series, and we’re planning to start some of my childhood favorites soon, including Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (which I narrated as a volunteer audiobook project for LibriVox.org – https://librivox.org/the-secret-garden-dramatic-reading-by-burnett-frances-hodgson/). My daughter has recently discovered a passion for performing by taking on some small roles in projects for The Online Stage, a new group recording plays and novels, some of which will be published for free at the Internet Archive, and some which have already appeared on Audible. These overlapping careers mean that I can share my love of books and acting with students, listeners, and my family, and I’m grateful for every minute!
Elizabeth is an English literature professor by day, and an audiobook narrator by night. She trained as an actor and director at Drew University, and holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois, with expertise in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. She loves reading (and teaching) fiction, drama, and poetry of all kinds, and particularly delights in creating distinctive voices for literary characters. She is an absolute Anglophile, and has narrated dozens of books in a British accent, despite the fact that she’s originally from New Jersey. Her biggest fan is her seven-year-old daughter, who loves hearing her read aloud, with a reminder to “do the voices, Mommy.” Learn more about Elizabeth here.