10 Audiobook Narrators to Listen to Beyond Black History Month

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10 Audiobook Narrators to Listen to Beyond Black History Month

Representation matters on the page, and it’s just as important in the audiobook realm. An audio performance needs to represent the multi-dimensionality of every character or subject’s experience, breathing life into every word. Thank goodness, then, for the diverse catalogue of voices the audiobook industry has worked to build over the last decade, as the publishing industry has haltingly dragged itself into better representation.

While all of the performers listed below have narrated books that are especially illuminating within the framework of Black History Month, their broad catalogues are worth revisiting year-round. And this is the place to start:

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1. Adjoa Andoh

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; The Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie; Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor; The Power by Naomi Alderman; What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

I first discovered Adjoa Andoh (Doctor Who’s Francine Jones) via Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 blockbuster, Americanah. I fell in love with the British actress’ facility with accents (various British, American and carefully calibrated adjustments of Nigerian as the two main characters grow up in, leave and then return to Nigeria) as well as her ability to embody the wide-eyed world-weariness heroine Ifemelu demonstrates. Andoh brings this same combination of care and accent work to every performance, whether it’s voicing a World War II-era amateur village chorister (The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir), a Lagos marine biologist facing the aftermath of a meteorite’s crash landing (Lagoon) or the fragmentary consciousness of a destroyed starship (Ancillary Justice).

Recent Must-Listen: The Power by Naomi Alderman. Listen to a sample here.

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2. Nile Bullock

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to check out: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore; Five Carat Soul by James McBride

Plenty of adults can (and do!) excel at performing young people’s voices, but there is nothing like hearing the voice of an actual young person carry an emotional story. Teenager Nile Bullock is one of these voices, and while he only has two audiobook credits to his name so far, he performs with a sharp and confident unembellished realism that is the epitome of what We Need Diverse Books is striving for—but in audio form.

Recent Must-Listen: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

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3. Dion Graham

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: Dear Martin by Nic Stone; Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin; Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis; X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; all but two of Dave Eggers’ English language adaptations

Multiple Audie-award winner Dion Graham (The Wire’s Rupert Bond) is one of the audiobook world’s go-to narrators for blockbuster autobiographies (Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Maurice White, to name a few), and modern detective stories. His voice is deep in its base performance, but he effectively modulates both pitch and timbre to jump into characters of all ages, genders and backgrounds—all without losing the dynamism of natural conversation. Graham’s catalogue is one of the deepest on this list, and you can happily lose yourself in it.

Recent Must-Listen: Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith. Listen to a sample here.

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4. Dominic Hoffman

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes; The Inferno by Dante, translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander; Interventions: A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan; The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin; Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation by Rawn James

Dominic Hoffman (A Different World’s Julian Day) frequently performs nonfiction and essays, often indicating a change in speaker by modulating by inflection rather than transforming into a new voice. This nuanced delivery makes learning about Thurgood Marshall or the NCAA or Kofi Annan a stimulating yet soothing exercise, like having a beloved Uncle catch you up on a topic. We all have to keep learning; let Hoffman help make some of that learning great.

Recent Must-Listen: The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison by Ralph Ellison. Listen to a sample here.

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5. January LaVoy

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: All the Pieces Matter by Jonathan Abrams; The Diviners series by Libba Bray; My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King; Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson ; Version Control by Dexter Palmer

“I don’t mark up scripts, I don’t highlight…I just read how I would want to have it read to me,” January LaVoy explained in her interview with Paste last month. One of the audiobook world’s most prolific readers, LaVoy possesses a preternatural gift for understanding how all of us would like to hear a story, and she has the talent to pull it off. In straight narration, her voice is warm and almost audibly smiling. But LaVoy can turn on a pin to voice a psychotic ghost, an insecure Brooklyn pickpocket, a smoky-voiced flapper or an abused former sharecropper—and that’s just in one series. While her work spans genre and category, she is a regular in the Young Adult and Star Wars world (her participation in the upcoming Han Solo audiobook was just announced), as well as on Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter Family and James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series. Whatever your bookish tastes, LaVoy’s catalogue will have a stunning performance for you.

Recent Must-Listen: The Meaning of Michelle by Various Authors. Listen to a sample here.

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6. Guy Lockard

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane and Neil Martinez-Belkin; Ghost by Jason Reynolds; Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds; Parental Discretion is Advised: The Rise of NWA and Dawn of Gangsta Rap by Gerrick D. Kennedy; If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson (upcoming)

The narrator of all but one of Jason Reynolds’ books, Guy Lockard is a fairly new member of the audiobook community. But his strong, clear voice is made for narration, so you can bet his Audible search results will soon explode. While Lockard has shown himself especially well-suited to the Young Adult genre and stories about the black American experience, he’s capable of tackling any project. Get in on the ground floor with Lockard—and get his voice into the earbuds of the teens in your life. They’ll thank you for it.

Recent Must-Listen: Parental Discretion is Advised: The Rise of NWA and Dawn of Gangsta Rap by Gerrick D. Kennedy. Listen to a sample here.

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7. Robin Miles

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor; The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin; Difficult Women by Roxane Gay; Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks; Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly; The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Robin Miles is one of the biggest hitters on this list with 250+ titles to her name on Audible. Like the other audiobook icons, she reads across genres and possesses an especially keen ear for accents and dialect. Miles’ delivery is musical and energetic, whether she’s voicing a Himba girl’s encounters with aliens or the theoretical essays of contemporary feminist scholars. She has a performance of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon coming up in the next few months, so use the time between now and then to dip into her back catalogue.

Recent Must-Listen: Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks. Listen to a sample here.

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8. Prentice Onayemi

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: All the Pieces Matter by Jonathan Abrams; Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue; The Sellout by Paul Beatty; Blues People: Negro Music in White America by LeRoi Jones; New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

Prentice Onayemi is a careful reader whose pace belies the surrealism of the many titles he has read (The Sellout chief among them). His approach to accents is strong but understated, and his switches between genders are even more subtle. What Onayemi does is make you listen hard closely—at which point you’ll want to continue seeking him out to trap your attention more.

Recent Must-Listen: The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden. Listen to a sample here.

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9. Bahni Turpin

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis; So You Want to Talk About Race by Iljeoma Oluo; The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex; The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

In delivering the Boovian excesses of The True Meaning of Smekday, Bahni Turpin showcases what it means for an audiobook performance to be an art form. She has a captivating voice—higher pitched than average, with an almost dusty quality that allows for a sharp emotional clarity—that’s a perfect fit for middle grade and YA girls’ voices. But Turpin is equally adept at narrating nonfiction and literature for adults, including the only audiobook I have ever finished and immediately restarted: Helen Oyeyemi’s audacious multi-voiced story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Pick up Turpin; you won’t be disappointed.

Recent Must-Listen: So You Want to Talk About Race by Iljeoma Oluo. Listen to a sample here.

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10. Channie Waites

Audible | Libro.fm | Overdrive

Performances to Check Out: Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Libba Bray; Liar by Justine Larbaleister; A Poem For Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of the Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney; This Is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson; Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon

Like Nile Bullock and Prentice Oyayemi, Channie Waites does not have a deep audiobook catalogue…yet. But her well-metered delivery and unfussy vocal modulation to indicate changes in age, gender or accent is perfect for the medium—particularly middle grade and Young Adult stories—so we can only expect that list to grow. If you are looking for a mind-warp, give Waites’ spin as the most unreliable of narrators in Liar a shot. If you want to arm yourself with all the tea about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the teen girl who kicked things off months before Rosa Parks made her famous sitting stand, check out Waites’ performance of Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice.

Recent Must-Listen: A Poem For Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of the Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Listen to a sample here.


Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibiliophile whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult , Screener and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go 10 rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.

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