Talking with Kevin R. Free
In June 2023, Kevin R. Free was inducted as a Golden Voice, AudioFile's lifetime achievement honor for audiobook narrators.
What’s your favorite thing about narrating audiobooks?
I have to say, right now, my favorite thing about narrating audiobooks is that I get to read! I used to say that I was so busy prepping books to record that I never read for pleasure, but I misspoke all that time. Prepping the books is reading them, analyzing them, really getting to know them before I narrate them. And I have read so many wonderful books for work that I am grateful just to be reading. So my work really is a pleasure!
Where do you find inspiration for accents or other aspects of your performance?
I find myself practicing interesting voices after I hear them! I also like to google image search character descriptions in books to see what faces come up. I just create voices based on what I see in google images or in my imagination.
Tell us about a memorable character you’ve given voice to. And please name a couple of your favorite performances.
This is a difficult question! I really enjoyed creating a first-person narrative for Noa, the main character in A COMPLICATED LOVE STORY SET IN SPACE by Shaun David Hutchinson. He is a scared teenager with a bit of a sardonic edge. I also find myself thinking about THE COST OF KNOWING by Brittney Morris and THE BOOK OF FATAL ERRORS by Dashka Slater a lot, and how grateful I was to record those titles. The reads I have done of Brandon Taylor, F.T. Lukens, and Hilton Als change my life every time. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries. Murderbot is the gift that keeps on giving!
What is the funniest moment you’ve encountered in narrating audiobooks?
It’s always funny when I receive a file of the mistakes I made while recording! I always think, “If I was reading the book when I recorded it, how is it that I didn’t notice that I read “cat” instead of “that”? One time, I recorded a really fun book called PASTOR NEEDS A BOO by Michele Andrea Bowen. When my director, Jenny Selig (shout out to all the audiobook directors I have worked with!), played back some of the crazy voices I was doing for the book, I couldn’t stop laughing—I was afraid we’d get in trouble because the voices were so fun!
When Kevin Free talks about his career, one word comes up again and again: lucky. “I’m one of the lucky actors who gets to do a whole lot of different artistic things,” he says. “And I see myself as a storyteller, in general, in all the work I do.” That storytelling takes many forms: He recently performed “A Christmas Carol” at Virginia Stage Company; he presented the first ten minutes of his own play, “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” as part The Fire This Time Festival; and in February, he’s sharing a story live on The Moth Mainstage in New York. “I just can’t believe that I’m actually doing it--2012 already feels like a success.”
When he’s narrating audiobooks, especially the ones for younger audiences, such as Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles series and Walter Dean Myers’s THE CRUISERS and CHECKMATE, Free has learned to not be afraid of going too far. “I really characterize and really use my voice to go the full distance. I think it’s easier to see those characters if they’re fully formed voices.”
Where will his storytelling take him next? “I have favorite African-American authors whose books I haven’t been able to record yet. I’m dying to record a book by Mat Johnson; I’m dying to record another book by Edward P. Jones.”
Free won Earphones for Jones’s THE KNOWN WORLD. “I would love to do some Colson Whitehead books. And the YA books that I do with these African-American characters are so wonderful--you know, it’s Walter Dean Myers! That’s amazing!” And here’s that word again. “I’m really lucky.”--Jennifer M. Dowell
We always like to tell readers about new narrators who seem to have a natural affinity for storytelling. Kevin Free, a native North Carolinian who now lives in New York, recorded his first audiobook in 2001. Starting with children's titles--VERDI by Janell Cannon and BIG AL by Andrew Clements--Kevin expanded his audiography this year with THE KNOWN WORLD, Edward P. Jones's celebrated novel. He matches the author's powerful work with a fine performance, which wins an Earphones Award and brings his talent to the forefront. Kevin's narration of THUNDERLAND, a horror novel, by Brandon Massey is also reviewed in this issue, and also gets an Earphones Award. [APR/MAY 2004]
Rhyme’s Rooms AudioFile Best of 2022 Nonfiction & Culture
The Very Hungry Caterpillar AudioFile Best of 2021 Children & Family Listening
�Four Hundred Souls AudioFile Best of 2021 History & Biography
Look Both Ways AudioFile Best of 2019 Children & Family Listening
Freedom Over Me AudioFile Best of 2017 Children & Family Listening
The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America AudioFile Best of 2013 Contemporary Culture
My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey AudioFile Best of 2012 Children
The Cruisers: Checkmate AudioFile Best of 2011 Children
The Throne of Fire: The Kane Chronicles, Book 2 AudioFile Best of 2011 Young Adult
The Red Pyramid: The Kane Chronicles, Book 1� AudioFile Best of 2010 Children
Get our FREE Newsletter and discover a world of audiobooks.
Let us recommend your next great audiobook!
No algorithms here!
We pick great audiobooks for you.
Sign up for our free newsletter with audiobook love from AudioFile editors.
If you are already with us, thank you! Just click X above.
Thank you for contacting us!
Our group will review and follow up within 72 hours.
Thanks for your interest!