Talking with January LaVoy

With the recent publication of The King of Crows (Listening Library), January LaVoy completes over 80 hours of narration in Libba Bray’s Diviners series. In addition to this feat, LaVoy is the recognizable voice of many nonfiction audios featuring stories of strong Black women, an always satisfying narrator of genre fiction who is notable for her memorable character voices, and a true lover of stories.

“I know books can’t fight a virus,” she told me, “but they can help us remember through our grief and fear that there was a world before, and there will be a world after, and that we are the creators of the worlds we inhabit. I feel blessed to be a storyteller, because it helps me remember that every day. Every creation is an act of hope.” Read more about LaVoy’s memorable narrations in our “Now Hear This” overview on Booklist Online.

Congratulations on completing the recording of this series! Did you know when you recorded The Diviners that it would be a series (not to mention one stretching past 80 hours!)?

Thank you! It’s been very bittersweet, as I’m sorry to see these characters go. I’ll miss them. Thinking back, I feel like we knew from the beginning that it was going to be three or four books, and certainly by the time we got to Lair of Dreams, I knew it was four. And to be completely honest, until you asked me that, I hadn’t really wrapped my mind around the total time. I’ve spent a good bit of my life with those folks and their story!

Was there any discussion between you and Libba Bray that informed your narrative decisions?

Although Libba and I have become quite close over the years, I wouldn’t say that anything informed my narrative decisions that wasn’t already on the page. Her writing is so crystal clear to me. I can hear every being she creates. But I will tell you about one specific exchange we had a couple of years ago. I was in my dressing room, backstage, before a performance at the Signature Theatre. I got a text from Libba, and it said, “Just named a character LaVoy,” and honestly, I thought I was going to pass out. The fact that she chose to knit me into the fabric of the series in that way is just . . . it tells you everything about what a generous, thoughtful, amazing person she is. And I figured it was going to be a one-liner, or something! I had no idea she’d be so present in the series. Alma LaVoy . . . my literary sister.

How does it feel as a reader and narrator to have taken this journey with Evie and company?

As narrator, I feel exhausted—but in a good way. Like I do after a long-distance run. Every time I recorded a Diviners book—which took, on average, about five days per book—I would be laughing, crying, fearful, falling in love . . . all the experiences the characters went through, I had to go through, in some sense, to make them come alive. So I’d walk out of the book pretty drained, but again, in the good way. That feeling of having left it all on the field. I also feel nostalgic, because I know I’ll be thinking about these folks and their story for a long, long time.

As a reader, I’m simply bereft. No more to look forward to.

How is narrating a series different from narrating stand-alone titles?

It’s wildly fun to narrate a great series. When Facebook started, I was not long out of graduate school, and I remember those first years of finding friends and peeking into their lives and seeing what they were up to and always thinking, “Wow! That’s how they turned out!” A great series is like that. It’s like visiting old friends and getting to see how things went for them, what’s expected, what’s surprising (or shocking), what you always hoped might come true for them. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s like a long-term relationship, as opposed to just a date!

Something that makes your narration of King of Crows so vibrant, like all of the titles in the Diviners series, is the dramatic range of voices you’ve created for all of the characters. You voice many characters in adult novels too, but they feel different. Does the process of incorporating character voices for a YA novel or children’s book differ from your process for creating character voices in an adult novel?

It’s an interesting question. I’m aware that my voices are more . . . I’ll say vivid in YA books, than they are in most adult novels, but that’s not a quality I choose consciously. I think it has more to do with the content, and what is required to serve it. Your average mainstream mystery or romance novel is populated by people that you might meet in real life, so the voices I create serve that function. There’s a vibrancy to the characters in many YA book—a magic, even—that supports a heightened sound. Libba chose the roaring twenties for the Diviners, and that’s a period of history many of us are fascinated by; Gatsby, flappers, the Harlem Renaissance . . . there’s a brightness to it in the movie in my mind. I want to capture all of the color and sound and light that time, the shimmer of it.

Lately you seem to be a go-to narrator for nonfiction and memoirs that center the lives and experiences of Black women. Can you talk about being one of the most recognizable audiobook voices to carry powerful stories from this demographic?

It’s simply a huge honor. As a biracial Black woman, I’m so proud to be a part of sharing the stories of extraordinary women who have largely been overlooked or marginalized throughout history, including modern history. We all have a long way to go until we see anything like equity and parity in society, for so many different types of people. But making sure we are telling all the stories, honoring our truths—to anyone and everyone who will listen—feels like a good place to start.

What grabs your attention and excites you when selecting a new project?

I have my own particular interests as a reader, of course—history, politics, animals, magic, mystery, lots of things. So, whenever I’m asked to narrate something that feels like something I’d choose to read on my own, that adds a layer of excitement. Then again, some of the most fascinating experiences I’ve had as a narrator have come from working on books I might not choose for myself! So I always try to stay open to all kinds of projects.

Many people are turning to books during difficult times. What are your “comfort listens”?

Well, I don’t know that there’s a more comforting audiobook on the planet than the Charlotte’s Web program that Penguin Random House produced last year. Meryl Streep’s voice is so clear and so soothing, and it’s really a book about grief, and fear of death, and how the only way through that is to love others well and truly. So that’s certainly at the top of the list, considering what we’re all dealing with currently.

Anything else you’d like to share with Booklist readers about audiobooks, narration, or books in general?

It’s hard to think about how to answer that right now, in the midst of this pandemic. Books quite literally saved my life when I was a tween and a teen, and I know they can’t fight a virus, but they can help us remember through our grief and fear that there was a world before, and there will be a world after, and that we are the creators of the worlds we inhabit. I feel blessed to be a storyteller, because it helps me remember that every day. Every creation is an act of hope.

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  1. Samantha says:

    I love Heather Booth, and I love January LaVoy, so this was such an unexpected delight! Thank you both for this wonderful interview.

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