University Press Week: Speaking Up with Audiobooks

Listen to this article now, narrated by Dawn Harvey:

In today’s post for #UPweek, book co-authors Shirley N. Hager and Frances Hancock, and narrator Dawn Harvey join Carlyn Craig from Post Hypnotic Press to discuss an upcoming audiobook project for The Gatherings, which boosts Indigenous authors’ voices and ideas.

We are pleased to contribute to this University Press Week blog series. The theme, “Speaking Up,” is especially apropos to audiobooks, and it is hard to imagine a book that represents more eloquently the ways in which university presses “speak up” than The Gatherings!

During the 1980s and ‘90s, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals came together in Wabanaki territory – a region encompassing the state of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes – to explore some of the most pressing questions at the heart of truth and healing efforts in the U.S. and Canada. Meeting over several years in long-weekend gatherings, in a Wabanaki-led traditional Council format, assumptions were challenged, perspectives upended, and stereotypes shattered. Alliances and friendships were formed that endure to this day.

Thirteen years in the making, The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations, by Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane, tells the moving story of these meetings in the words of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. Reuniting to reflect on how their lives were changed by their experiences and how they continue to be impacted by them, the participants share the valuable lessons they learned.

Now a UTP bestseller, The Gatherings is exemplary of how university presses “speak up” and of their influence beyond academia. The book’s popularity and reach led to a Teacher’s Guide aimed at secondary students but also relevant for upper middle-school and university students, organizations, and community groups in both Canada and the U.S. The Guide is accessible free of charge on the UTP website as well as the website for The Gatherings.

An audio version of The Gatherings was the natural next step. Both UTP and Post Hypnotic Press, the audiobook production company, appreciated the importance of introducing these critical narratives to a broader audience. Building awareness and understanding of Indigenous lived experiences and concerns alongside those of their settler allies became a shared motivation.

Often associated with fiction, audiobooks are equally popular and important to nonfiction. Many avid readers use audiobooks to add “reading” time to their busy schedules. When it comes to academic texts, this is no less true. Plus, good narration can enhance a listener’s understanding of challenging concepts and their appreciation of the text, and thus make difficult texts accessible to a wider audience. Audiobooks also provide the opportunity to hear other languages and unfamiliar names pronounced correctly. And, in the case of a book like The Gatherings, an audio production makes audible the heart and soul of the text.

So, how do you authentically represent a collection of Indigenous and settler voices from different geographical locations in an audio recording of a book of their stories? Is it possible to honour the deeply relational approach that was the focus of this book, while also meeting production requirements?

Working closely with the Wabanaki and settler co-authors of The Gatherings, UTP and PHP embraced this challenge.

The Gatherings is a collective work and throughout the book, we “hear” the voices of its co-authors. It was clear this wasn’t going to be a single-voice narration project. The obvious approach would be to have a narrator for each co-author, but that posed logistical and budgetary issues.

To distinguish unique voices and perspectives, we decided to use four actors, and to reflect the importance of this project, we aimed high. Internationally acclaimed Margo Kane, Cree-Saulteaux performing artist and writer known for, among other things, her solo-voice works Moonlodge and Confessions of an Indian Cowboy, as well as her work with Full Circle First Nations Performance, narrates the Indigenous women’s stories. Kevin Loring, a Nlaka’pamux playwright and actor who, among his many accolades, is the winner of the Governor General’s Award for English-language drama, the Herman Voaden Playwriting Competition and the Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Original Script for Where the Blood Mixes (2009), voiced the Indigenous men’s stories as well as the one white male North American settler. The white North American women were voiced by award-winning actress and narrator Dawn Harvey and Cherlandra Estrada, an up-and-coming voice talent. Finally, Dulcie Smart, a New Zealander actress now living and working in Berlin, was cast to narrate the Afterword (written by a former New Zealand participant in the Gatherings and now a scholar in the field of Indigenous-settler relations). Ms. Smart’s voice embodies a “view from afar” and helps emphasize the international significance of the issues raised in the book.

The narrators met with the co-authors prior to recording. While it is not uncommon for narrators to reach out to authors to discuss their books, to check word and name pronunciations, etc., meeting with a group of authors is not the norm. However, the co-authors requested these meetings and everyone agreed this was an important step. The process allowed everyone to build trust, share aspirations, answer questions, and address the correct pronunciation, particularly of Indigenous words. The narrators valued meeting the co-authors whose voices they would represent.

Building the pronunciation guide was also a group effort. Shirley N. Hager met with Indigenous co-authors remotely to record their pronunciation of Indigenous terms, with additional assistance from our New Zealand co-author to record correct pronunciation of Māori terms in the Afterword. Post Hypnotic Press used those recordings to create a pronunciation guide for the narrators, which they found invaluable.

Everyone worked together to accommodate timeframes, international time zones, and budget constraints. Although there have been some inevitable delays due to scheduling, the process continues to be nourished by the generosity, professionalism, and ethical-political commitment of all its contributors.

The Gatherings audiobook, still a work in progress, contributes to international conversations on Indigenous-settler relations, amplifying critical Indigenous concerns and offering guidance on ethical allyship. All involved are grateful for the support of the University of Toronto Press, first in publishing the book, then the Teacher’s Guide, and now the audiobook. The Gatherings truly is a testament to how university presses “give voice to scholarship and ideas that shape conversations around the world.”

Listen to an audio sample, here:

Learn more about Post Hypnotic Press, here:


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