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Talking with Melissa Fay Greene

Melissa Fay Greene has always wanted to narrate the audio editions of her books but has learned that publishers have a different perspective. “I auditioned for LAST MAN OUT,” she says. Instead of being hired to read the chronicle of 19 coal miners who survived nine days trapped in a mine collapse only to become a centerpiece in the battle to desegregate the South, Greene received a “funny response. We laughed about that response for a long time. They said it was something better than the mediocre performances many authors turn in, but still not at a professional level.”

Despite the rebuff, the Atlanta-based author remains a fan of audiobooks and listens to each of her books when first released. For her latest book, THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU, the story of Haregowoin Teferra’s efforts to save children orphaned by AIDS-stricken parents in Ethiopia, Greene avoided the narrator’s chair. Instead, she and her Ethiopian-Canadian assistant assisted the reader with the pronunciations of the Ethiopian names and words in the book.

Greene acknowledges that a more difficult task is dealing with abridgments, whether in audio or in print. For example, her second book, THE TEMPLE BOMBING, was released only in an abridged audio. With the release of THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU and the request by a few foreign publishers for a shorter edition, Greene has again confronted the difficulty of abridging her work. “Abridgments are tough. Do I take out stories? Do I take out data? I waffle from day to day. Obviously, I thought everything was essential. That’s why I included it,” she explains. Greene recently discovered that she had accidentally omitted one of her favorite stories from the book. “A book is so fluid. For years it changes daily according to your mood, and then suddenly it’s over. It’s locked up, and you can’t touch it.”

All of Greene’s books have garnered favorable reviews, with LAST MAN OUT and THE TEMPLE BOMBING receiving Earphones from AUDIOFILE. Greene is “most drawn to stories about justice and how people behave in the absence of justice.” In PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK, she says, “I outlined the struggle to help bring about a world with at least some racial balance, if not equality. In THE TEMPLE BOMBING, it was Rabbi Rothschild who used prophetic words on behalf of racial justice. Last Man Out is an amazing scenario of men plunged into total darkness and being trapped near death. In that darkness, the leader who arises among them is an Afro-Canadian. But after the rescue, when the lights go on, he is reminded of his place.”

In THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU, the central character in many ways is Greene herself, who adopted two Ethiopian orphan children. “The story of HIV/AIDS in Africa today is a phenomenal story of local injustice, of the wealthy world standing by while the destitute world perishes from a treatable disease,” she explains. Greene has no plans for her next book because of her passion about the tragedy of AIDS in Africa. “I have never before stood on the front lines of an unfolding disaster, and it certainly has kindled in me a sense of urgency and a touch of stridency.”—Daniel J. Siegel

© AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine

Photo © Molly Samuel

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