Say hello to today’s Take 5 guest, Cherise Boothe, who is one of the queens of collaborative audiobooks. Her voice always gives spark to multicast productions, and I’m impressed with her ability to portray characters of all ages and from different parts of the world.
You may be familiar with Cherise’s youthful voice, which allows her to bring authenticity to children’s books. She is also, however, equally at home performing contemporary culture (THE FIRE THIS TIME), literary fiction (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO INTERRACIAL LOVE?), and humor audiobooks (BLACK MAN, WHITE HOUSE).
The audiobooks I feature here underscore the range of Cherise’s solo work, starting with a children’s story and ending with a novel about life under Jim Crow.
Set in a small town in South Carolina, Varian Johnson’s THE PARKER INHERITANCE has won several awards, including an Odyssey Honor for best audiobook production. After young Candice discovers a decades-old letter addressed to her grandmother, she and a friend set off to solve the mystery it reveals, redeem a woman’s reputation, and maybe find a treasure. Cherise’s expressive and lively narration is perfect for the middle-grade audience of this story, which touches on themes of black America and friendship.
AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS by Rivers Solomon revisits the antebellum South but is set on a space ship, from which escape is dangerous and near-impossible. Aster, a healer for society’s less-desirable population, is asked to help when the ship’s leader falls ill. The more time she spends with the upper classes on the upper decks, the more secrets she discovers. For this science fiction title, Cherise nicely rises to the challenge of voicing a variety of dialects and distinguishing among many characters.
Graduate student Shay’s life is a bit out of control, but she finds guidance by asking herself, What would blues singer Nina Simone do? Apparently, the answer is to return home to Denver to help her recovering alcoholic mother with her new life. Carleen Brice’s ORANGE MINT AND HONEY explores family, redemption, and forgiveness, and Cherise’s performance balances both the humor and the deeper emotions of this contemporary novel.
Terry Farish’s THE GOOD BRAIDER, a novel in verse, is set during the Sudanese civil war and offers a teen’s perspective on war, family, hunger, and immigration. The sights and sounds of dusty Africa and the warmth of family are offset by Viola’s fear of the soldiers, the inevitable losses, and the ultimate escape to Portland, Maine, where traditional values clash with modern American norms. Cherise’s believable accents and deft handling of the free verse strongly connect us to the fate of this family.
MAGIC CITY by Jewell Parker Rhodes is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shortly after World War I. Based on a true event, this is the story of what happens after an innocent black man steps into an elevator with a white woman. She screams, and race riots erupt throughout the city. Cherise creates distinct and consistent characterizations and leads listeners through the disturbing story without playing on their emotions.
Whether your next audiobook is one of Cherise Boothe’s solo performances or one of her collaborations, you’re in for a treat. But before you put your headphones on and queue up that book, take a minute to learn more about the woman who’s about to keep you company.
AudioFile Magazine: What is the one thing you wish you knew before you recorded your first book?
Cherise Boothe: Patience. Patience. Patience . . . and more patience. With myself. With environmental sounds that insist on bleeding through “soundproof” booths. With the vocal demands of the specific title one is reading. With the need to stop for a break. With the reality of a 10-hour day of recording when under a title deadline. And more . . . . It all goes so much more smoothly and is infinitely more enjoyable when one can have patience with oneself and relax into the circumstance in which one finds oneself. Then you’re really on a journey of storytelling.
AFM: Tell us something surprising about yourself.
CB: I hate wearing heels. If I could just give myself the permission, I’d never wear them again.
AFM: What are you doing when you’re not working?
CB: Going to the theater to see movies—love that, and I still don’t do it enough. Going to the theater to see plays—I started my career learning about and working in theater, my first artistic home. Threatening to learn how to play the guitar—still working on it; my first song that I learned and I have to keep relearning because I spend so much time away from practicing is Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.” Love that song.
AFM: When reading for pleasure, do you find yourself creating voices and thinking about pacing and emphasis?
CB: At first I was going to say no, that when I read for pleasure I allow myself to go as slowly as possible, without deliberate thought as to how the story is expressed. There’s no work involved, no effort made to think about these things. But on further pondering, I think that I do these things instinctually, even when reading for pleasure. The difference is that my imagination is much quicker and more expansive than what I’m able to produce when I am narrating. There is an effortlessness to the imagination, and one isn’t limited by vocal range, healthy sounds, microphone proximity, sound of a plane passing overhead, technical difficulty with the recording software, etc. . . . all the technical aspects are not even a consideration, and the imagination just runs free. I think if there’s any frustration on the artistic side of audiobook narrating, it may stem from my inability to produce the expanse of expression that the brilliant imagination is capable of. I think my work will forever be reaching to express what my imagination can do with such ease, flow, and lightness. But maybe that’s simply the plight of the artist in any medium.
AFM: What do you always and never wear in the recording booth?
CB: I am forever cold, and so I always come equipped with a soft, warm sweater shawl so I that can ensure I am warm and comfy in the booth. Because the studios I work in tend to be on the crisper side, I ask if I can have the air turned off for the booth. I never wear anything that makes a lot of noise . . . . I tend to move around every so often, so my clothes have to be silent accomplices when I’m feeling particularly animated during recording sessions.
Thank you so much, Cherise, for letting us get to know you. I couldn’t agree with you more on the wearing heels issue! I had never really thought about the differences between what our imaginations can create versus what is doable in the recording booth. I suspect you’re right that all artists must come to terms with that.
For even more listening, check out Cherise’s wide-ranging audiography.