"Storytelling has always been a strong part of who I am culturally."
Classically trained actor and narrator Soneela Nankani, who has earned multiple Earphones Awards and an Audie nomination, agrees with the perception that demand for her work has taken off in the last two years. “It really seems to me there’s been an explosion of books around the South Asian experience--Young Adult and also fiction more broadly. And I’ve really benefited from that.”
Before her narrating debut in 2009, Nankani had never listened to an audiobook: “I didn’t even know it was a thing!” she laughs. That year, an acting friend who was involved in audiobooks recommended her to narrate a book. Nankani recalls preparing for the audition and feeling overwhelmed. “I was lucky to have help from narrator Cary Hite. He helped me prepare that first script, showed me how to mark it up, how to consider what characters might sound like. Back then, it was a paper script, and I had seven colored highlighters!” A week later, she was asked to record her first book, ONE AMAZING THING, by Chitra Divakaruni. Nankani, who describes herself as an avid reader, quickly realized that narration offered her a way to combine her passions for reading and acting into something else she really loves to do.
Of Indian and Ghanaian descent, Nankani says being born into a family of storytellers helps with her work in many ways. “In both my families’ cultures, things are passed down through storytelling. So I’ve always been connected to that, through my parents and grandparents. Storytelling has always been a strong part of who I am culturally.” Her background as a world traveler also helps. “I tend to work on audiobooks that either are fantasy or involve travel or other cultures. It’s no coincidence! In addition to being from those two cultures, I have family from all over the world whose knowledge I can draw from. All of that helps.”
Now that she’s recorded more than a hundred audiobooks, does she have advice for those just beginning? After taking a moment to reflect, Nankani recommends something she’s begun doing recently: not using headphones in the booth. “I think the listening to yourself can take you out of it, in a way. When I’m not listening to myself, I can be 100% focused on the text and what’s going on with the character and letting that filter through me without worrying about how I sound. I’d recommend trusting yourself to tell the story without constantly double-checking how you sound.”
Nankani appreciates the accolades her work has garnered, but for her, the best compliment comes from authors whose work she reads. She was recently delighted to hear from Leah Franqui, author of AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS. “I loved that book. It’s so beautiful. I loved working on it and was so glad to hear how happy she was with the production. When an author emails me to say ‘That’s just the way I wanted the story to be told’--that’s everything to me! If the author’s happy, I’m happy.”--Jessie C. Grearson
©AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine
Anna Flores Photography
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