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In June 2019, Suzanne was inducted as a Golden Voice, AudioFile's lifetime achievement honor for audiobook narrators.�
How many audiobooks have you recorded?
I don’t know exactly, but I figure it’s around 1,000. The reason I say that is that many years ago, in the early ’90s, I received an award from the American Foundation for the Blind, with whom I started recording books, before it became a thing for sighted people--they gave me an award for having narrated 500 books for them. And that was already at a time when I was also working for other commercial companies, so I figure between then and over 20 years later, it must be around 1,000.
What is the most interesting piece of research you’ve done for an audiobook?
I would say the two bits of research that were outstanding were both for books that I did years ago for the Foundation for the Blind. One was a book about Isak Dinesen, which had tons of Danish in it, and at that time, I called the Danish consulate here in New York, and I went for four days in a row--I spoke to a lovely woman who gave me her time and her attention and her love of her country and her language and Isak Dinesen, and told me how to pronounce things. And then the other thing that was interesting was more the circumstances of how I did this research for a book that had lots of Russian in it. I called the Russian consulate and was told that I needed to make an appointment with the librarian. On the day that I arrived, I walked into the building, and there’s a very narrow little passageway, and a person sitting behind the old-fashioned teller windows that have vertical bars in front of them. And I said why I was there and that I was expected. She let me in a door which led to a large waiting room--the walls were lined with shelves on which were copies of a magazine called Soviet Life--this all was before 1989, so it was still the Soviet Union. I’m sitting in there by myself, and all of a sudden, out from the interior of the building come four men in dark suits and white shirts. They walk in, and they start looking around at the magazines. They have their hands behind their backs, facing away from me, and my first thought, although I have no proof of this whatsoever, is that they were KGB or something, they were checking me out to make sure I was not some enemy. Nobody did or said anything to me, nobody was actively threatening, but I felt very strongly that I was in a police state. And then the lovely librarian came out and got me, she took me back into her area, we had a lovely conversation, and she helped me with my pronunciations.
What has surprised you the most about your work in audiobooks?
The thing that surprised me most is that it’s an actual income-producing job, and it’s thrilling. And it was not lost on me that my training before being an actor was in academics in French, so I spent a lot of my college and graduate school years reading a text in French and having a dictionary by my side looking up words. And then lo and behold, that’s what I started to do for a living, having a text in front of me and looking up words, finding out how to pronounce things. So it felt in a way like I’d been training for it all my life without ever knowing that that’s what I was doing.
AudioFile Interview, 2005—Suzanne brings a distinguishing warmth and power to her narrations. Her talents extend to both fiction and nonfiction, and in her recording career of 30-plus years she has given listeners heart-wrenching memoirs, lively history, engaging light fiction, and involving mysteries. Her skill with European and Middle Eastern languages and a degree in French literature also help her provide an essential believability to the characters she portrays.
We've admired Suzanne's work on A MIGHTY HEART by Mariane Pearl, Queen Noor's LEAP OF FAITH, and Margaret MacMillan's PARIS 1919 . We were delighted with the smart narration and character portrayal in Julia Spencer Fleming's latest mystery, TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH . And we look forward to her recording of Doris Kearns Goodwin's latest history, TEAM OF RIVALS, about Lincoln's political genius. In preparing for recording, Suzanne looks for clues in the text, seeing them as "stage directions" that allow her to intuitively follow the author's intent, to stay attuned to psychological subtleties, and to give emotional shadings to the characters. Says producer Claudia Howard: "She has the remarkable ability of living in every single sentence as it comes off the page. At that very moment in time, she sees and feels what the author is seeing and feeling. And when she sees it, we do, too." Suzanne raises text to a high level of intimacy and immediacy, providing a most compelling listening experience.--2005 Narrator Yearbook
Suzanne Toren's enticing storytelling style has served her well in a 30-year career of recording audiobooks. We have celebrated Suzanne for her variety of work--from the contemporary social comedy LE DIVORCE to the literary STORIES OF I.L. PERETZ to the kid-friendly Henry & Mudge series. Daily recording has not diminished what she calls her "sense of adventure" as she begins each new book, and she particularly enjoys the many roles she gets to play--the Mexican-American mineworkers of Barbara Kingsolver's HOLDING THE LINE ; the Lower East Side Jewish family in Sydney Taylor's ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY ; the orphan twins in RUBY HOLLER by Sharon Creech. She tells us that while allowing the story to emerge, she discovers something new and different in each project. She loves to "enter the universe of the author," and we, as listeners, are treated to her astute understanding of the text. Suzanne's ability to intuit an author's intent brings listeners to the heart of a character and the setting--as in her performance of Queen Noor's autobiography, LEAP OF FAITH , which thoughtfully creates an absorbing listen. In preparing, Suzanne says she follows advice she heard years ago: "Allow what you receive to land in your heart and then come out of your mouth." Honored by the American Foundation for the Blind's Scourby Award for Narrator of the Year in 1988, Suzanne is indeed a narrator whose intelligent voice is one all listeners should know.--2003 Narrator Yearbook
Photo by Gene Yellin
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