Ta-Nehisi Coates is a gifted writer and orator, adept at harnessing the power of the written as well as the spoken word. That's why I'm excited about the release of the audiobook edition of Coates' recent fiction debut, The Water Dancer (which is also Oprah's latest book club pick). The inimitable Joe Morton of Scandal narrates the story of Hiram Walker, born into slavery on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Hiram possesses supernatural abilities, including a photographic memory and the ability to magically transport himself from one place to the other when in contact with water. The importance of preserving cultural memory is a prominent theme, and Morton's sonorous voice imbues Hiram's story with a dramatic heft. Here are some listen-alikes for fans of Coates and The Water Dancer.
Morton brings an impeccable depth to his narration of Ralph Ellison's classic Invisible Man. Morton's deliberate pacing and enunciation give meaning to each syllable of Ellison's powerful text, and the first sentence he reads, "I am an invisible man," carries a weighty history within it. Morton's interpretation of the first word, I, is worth savoring.
The intense themes of James Baldwin's semi-autobiographical classic, Go Tell It on the Mountain, are beautifully articulated by narrator Adam Lazarre-White. Baldwin's 1930s Harlem comes to life through Lazarre-White's rich intonation, which conveys the harsh reality and bewildering confusion experienced by the characters in the novel.
James Macbride's The Good Lord Bird is a fictionalized retelling of the story of abolitionist John Brown. Michael Boatman narrates with feeling, seamlessly taking on different voices regardless of gender or age.
The audio edition of Walter Mosley's Down the River Unto the Sea is a perfect showcase for narrator Dion Graham's vocal range. Graham draws us into the story of ex-NYPD officer-turned-private investigator Joe King Leonard with his whispery, hypnotic reading.