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Listening with Ayesha Rascoe

AudioFile spoke with Ayesha Rascoe, host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” about her audiobook, HBCU MADE: A Celebration of the Black College Experience.

AudioFile: You’re obviously used to being in the studio, but what was your experience narrating your introduction to HBCU MADE?

Ayesha Rascoe: It was an amazing experience. Of course, I work in radio so I’m very familiar with recording myself, but it’s so different when you’re telling your own story. My sister also accompanied me to the studio session, which made it special because she got to see me at work and document the experience. It also gave me a newfound respect for voice actors who narrate books. I did one essay. I can only imagine how taxing it would be to do a whole book.

AF: What are some of the memorable interactions that you’ve had with readers on your book tour events for HBCU MADE?

AR: I’ve had so many. The tour was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hit seven cities and did one virtual stop in Chicago. At the Baltimore book signing event, I met a young boy who was about 10 years old. He was so excited to meet me and take pictures with me. He said he plans to go to an HBCU when he grows up. That meant the world to me. Also, there were so many people who bought multiple books as gifts for all of the HBCU alumni in their family. And, speaking of family, my family and friends really showed up and showed out during the tour. At the St. Louis event at the end of the signing line, I saw someone with balloons and flowers. It turned out to be my best friend, who I met at Howard University. She flew all the way out from Austin, Texas, to surprise me.

AF: On the radio, you reach millions of listeners all over with just your voice. Can you talk a little bit about the power of a voice reaching out to share stories?

AR: I didn’t realize it until I actually started working in radio, but a voice is such a powerful tool for connection. People really have a visceral reaction to what they hear. It transports them in a way that is different from the written word or a visual medium. You’re hearing this person in your ear, and it feels like they’re talking to you and only you. There’s a closeness and an intimacy associated with it. People often say they feel like I’m their friend because they hear me on the radio talking to them while they’re on their way to church or eating breakfast. I’m their companion. It’s a great compliment to me, and I take it as an honor and a privilege to be welcomed into people’s lives that way.

AF: Can you also speak a bit about the changing sound of NPR, with a very welcome more inclusive roster of hosts and reporters?

AR: During my time at NPR, I have heard repeatedly that NPR wants to sound like America. The sound of America is diverse. It doesn’t just sound one way. I’m a Black woman from the south and people can hear that in my reporting. For some it will sound like home. For others they’re not used to hearing someone like myself. But, everyone is getting the news from me just the same. So, I hope in the future that voices like mine and a broad range of dialects become more common on the radio.

AF: What has your experience been like as the host of “Weekend Edition Sunday”?

AR: It’s really been full of joy. I love being able to tackle all sorts of topics from foreign policy to politics to movies and books. The audience is so engaged and committed to the program. And, of course, there’s always the puzzle. I really love that one-of-a-kind tradition that we have with the puzzle and puzzle master Will Shortz. People really set their mornings around it.

AF: Who are some of the people who have inspired you in your work at NPR?

AR: I’m blessed to work with so many wonderful colleagues who inspire me. It’s been great seeing the work of all the NPR hosts Michel Martin, Ailsa Chang, Mary Louise Kelly, and more. I also get to work alongside “Weekend Edition Saturday” host Scott Simon, who is a legend at NPR.

AF: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about HBCU MADE?

AR: I just want to say that HBCU MADE is a love letter to Black colleges and universities. It’s a testament to how HBCUs have made and continue to make the world a better place.


Photo of Ayesha Rascoe by Jasmin Hudson. 

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