Dion Graham

Steve Thomas: Dion, welcome to Circulating Ideas.

Dion Graham: Thanks so much. Thanks so much for having me. I’m glad to be with you.

Steve Thomas: We’re mostly going to talk about audio work here, but I did want to start by asking some of your earliest memories about libraries.

Dion Graham: Oh, well, libraries were and are very important in my life. There’s a funny and great story. Well, it’s an endearing story, I think, I can tell you about the library and that is, is that I’ve just been a book nerd since I was a kid and it certainly was true that for instance, in the summertime, my best friend from across the street, we would walk the mile from our house to our local library, and we would be there waiting for the library to open sometimes so we can get our books before we, before we came back and played pick up basketball, football, or any things that kids do, but the library was very, very important and I’ve spent a lot of life there. I’m going to name, check it right now, Northern Hills branch library in Cincinnati, which is where I grew up. It was a great place for me. And that’s really where my, my library memories start, but really it was like being given the keys to the universes. And actually, as I look back on it, it’s really clear to me and just memorable the role that librarians had in my life too, just in terms of pointing me in great directions and facilitating reading, and just everything I know is thinking about thinking about lots of times also thinking I was in a section of the library that were slightly older, reading wise than where I was theoretically supposed to be, but I loved being there. I wasn’t in any inappropriate places, anything like that.

 I’m thinking about how I began a lifelong journey there. I really discovered science fiction, and I remember a series that I was really taken with, which was the Tyco Bass series. Mr. Bass series. I forget the name of the books, but they were sci fi for kids, and they were great. And that began kind of lifelong journey with science fiction. Not that I get to read it all the time now, but I’m certainly interested. Hilariously, I am waiting until I get some room on my plate, so I can actually get to the third book in the Three Body Problem trilogy, which I know is going to be really great. The first two books were really great, but I have to wait until things quiet down a little bit.

Steve Thomas: Has that already been published in China?

Dion Graham: Yeah, I’m pretty sure it has. I think all three of them are well known here and there and he’s great, and he’s got some other books as well, but my first introduction to him was with the Three Body Problem, and it’s been great. I can’t wait to get into it.

Steve Thomas: That’s excellent. So how did you get involved with audio book narration in the first place? And I mean, you were an actor before that, but what got you into audio book narration?

Dion Graham: That’s a great question. It went a little something like this. There are two stories I can tell you and I want to tell you both. It went a little something like this. So first thing that happened was, after I finished my training, this was probably about, oh, a year, maybe two. I was living just outside of New York. My apartment mate was someone that I trained with and one time I was going home for Christmas and he said, “Oh, hey, would you just record this into like a cassette player? Just thinking it might be fun to listen to you do it. I was like, “Sure, that’s fine.” And what it was was it was James Joyce’s The Dead. So I took it home and of course, I remember just before I was supposed to come back in New York. And so the morning I think before, I was getting on a plane to get back. I went downstairs at my parents’ house in the basement and I was in my pajamas and robe, and kind of a dim room, and I recorded it and I brought it back and forgot about it. And I think we listened to it in the dark maybe a couple months later and it was really, really compelling. And I had had a good time listening to it. I was like, we were like, “Wow. Wow.” So that’s the one story.

The second story is that I was doing this was some years later and I did a show. I was doing the world premiere of a lost Tennessee Williams play, at the Royal National Theater in London. And I happened to meet a friend of a friend of mine who was in the cast, who was an actor, and he’s definitely a friend of mine now, too, who narrated audio books in both London and in New York, because he lives in both places for part of the year.

And, I said, “oh, that sounds like fun. Maybe when I get back, you could make an introduction for me.” And so 6, 7, 8 months later when I got back, he did make an introduction. And it took a while before somebody actually listened to a little sample that I made, but all I can say is I had no idea that I would fall in love with this aspect of my work as I certainly have, and I also had no idea that there would be so much appreciation and respect for this aspect of my work. So I feel really blessed because I I really enjoy it. I really enjoy it.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. Cause I remember earlier audio books before the kind of the, I don’t know, Renaissance of audio books, that it was really pretty boring to hear somebody would just sit there and just read the book, but now people like you, and I had January LaVoy on earlier too. And just like all these great performers, you know, just bring it to life. Not just listening to somebody read.

Dion Graham: Oh, wow. It’s funny cause I know what you mean. I remember when I started, I remember when I started often enough, I would hear, “oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that. No, no, no, no, no. You can’t characterize that much. No, no, no, no, no.” And I was always like, like a three-year-old, I was just like, but why? Because it just made sense to me, and of course they said, well, we’re not allowed to or whatever.

And so all I know is that I just try to respond to the book. As someone who loves to read also, the movie, so to speak, of books begins without you having to do anything in your mind, so I just really try to be an open channel for that flowing right down the shoot in bringing it to life. So I really appreciate you saying that, Steve, I really appreciate the myriad ways that that can happen too. So, yeah.

Steve Thomas: Well, what was the first audio book job that you did? Do you remember?

Dion Graham: I think I do. Let’s see. I think the very first book I did professionally was called, Caught Up in the Rapture, I think. And it was a three person book, a multi narrator book. And I was narrating a guy who was a younger guy, a young man who was an aspiring rapper, I think, if I remember correctly, and I wouldn’t necessarily say it was high literature, but that was my, that was the first one I did.

Steve Thomas: Did you actually have to rap?

Dion Graham: I think I did a little bit. I think I did a little bit if I’m not mistaken. Yeah, I think he did. And if I remember correctly, I think the character’s name was X man or something like that.

So, something just popped into my mind that I wanted to share with you too. It’s funny because every now and then you’ll see “read by” or something like that. And I like to distinguish a little bit because I feel like what I do, what other people like January, what people are doing out here with audio books is it’s “narrated by.” So you could also say “brought to life by” or “performed by,” but I like “narrated by” because it’s a little bit different than just reading, and I just think that’s an important distinction, if that makes any sense.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, no, definitely. ” Reading” is that old style we talked about and performing, narrating is what you’re doing. How do you balance your work now? Like how many audio books would you say on average do you do a year?

Dion Graham: It depends on a few things. It depends on just what comes down the pipe. And also depends on what my shooting schedule or performing either on stage or on screen schedule is like too. But I will say that typically I’m recording at least 10 to 15 a year, maybe 10. Let’s just say at least 10 a year. But during these pandemic times, I think I’ve maxed out with like maybe maybe 20 or something here, which is, it’s a lot. I’m fortunate that I get mostly wonderful material in all different realms so, if I have the time to do it, I’m always up for it.

Steve Thomas: How does it feel to be the person that’s giving voice to author’s work?

Dion Graham: I really love, I love doing it. And I really try to, with great respect to the author and the writing, I really try to just put myself in a position to discover what the tale is about and spin it out, spool it out, conjure it, tell it in the ways that make sense and the ways that make sense that are connected to my own creative response to what I’m getting as I’m reading the book. Some have lots of characters, some have few characters. They’re all different kinds of styles. I feel really fortunate about that, but that’s probably a mirror of how I approach my work in the different realms as well. Some people are really excellent at playing their three notes; I’m kind of 360. So I don’t feel limited about anything. I feel really, really confident about jumping into anything that moves me. There are times when, particularly during these days we’re in now, where you might feel like, “well, this is the Russian person, this is the main character so maybe they should maybe you should get a Russian person to narrate this,” but then there are exceptions to that too, because, well, I do think it is great to have people represented who are reflected in the book and sometimes people who don’t oftentimes get representation. At the same time, I also want to say if there are artists who have capabilities of really bringing it to life authentically, and when I say authentically, I mean creating authentic response in listeners, I think that’s fantastic too.

 This is making me think about some narration I’ve done for Colum McCann’s books. He asked me to do three of his titles this past year, and I’m so honored that he did ask me to do one was his book “Dancer”, inspired by and largely surrounding the life of Rudolf Nureyev, a Russian dancer who left and became a superstar in the world. It takes place mostly in Russia. So it didn’t make sense to me at all, to try to do it with a Russian accent. There was no time to master that enough and the story didn’t require that. But what I did try to do is I did try to keep the russian pronunciations of cities, Russian words, authentic just to let us know that that’s where we were.

Another one of them was his book “Songdogs”, which was about a young man who is grappling with his life, as handed to him or as born for him, with his parents, his father was Irish, his mom was Mexican. And interestingly in this, I read it and I thought I actually asked Colum, I said, “So, did you want to get an Irish narrator and that’s okay if you want to.” And he said, “No, no, no, actually I don’t, I don’t think there’s any need for that. I’d love for you to do it.” And he said something that has really stuck with me I think it’s important for everyone to hear. And he said, “You know, I think that it’s important for us to be able to tell each other’s stories as well, not just tell our stories. It’s important for us to be able to tell our stories, but it’s important for us to be able to tell each other’s stories as well. There’s a point of connection in that.” And I really understood that, and I didn’t do it with an Irish accent. I leaned towards some cadences towards Ireland sometimes. And this young man had certainly traveled around the world as well. And I I’m really proud of it too. So anyway, don’t wanna go on too much about that, but there are all kinds of ways into story, and we are having that experience as we’re reading as well. So I try to honor that and telling it. It’s a thrill.

Steve Thomas: Like you said, the representation is important and if that’s like the main gist of it, it’s good to have that. I’m thinking in particular, I happen to just do a book talk at the library, a virtual one online, about “Dear Martin,” by Nic Stone. I noticed that you did the narration for that one, but a lot of times you don’t want every audiobook to be in a multi narrator where it’s like, oh, well here’s the white character, better get a white actor in here. I think it’s appropriate in that book to have an African-American do it, but you don’t want to bring in somebody else for every character who doesn’t fit exactly you.

Dion Graham: Absolutely. Steve, I really agree with you about that. I mean, I think that can be fun sometimes, but, in terms of what we’re trying to bring this piece to life, and I think that what you’re saying is absolutely right. So what is important is having an artist who has the breadth and depth to be able to do that, and with “Dear Martin,” the main character is a young black man, but he has friends who are young black men, who are young white folks as well. And I just think all of those were to be approached just with integrity, in terms of bringing them to life, and also just sharing them the message and journey that Nic wrote in the book is really important. So, yeah, I totally agree with you.

I feel like that’s sort of a companion piece of some work I’ve done during the pandemic time. So from “Dear Martin,” the followup to that which is “Dear Justyce”, also I’m thrilled I got to narrate Angie Thomas’s “Concrete Rose”, which was a sort of prequel to “The Hate U Give”, following the dad there, and then of course, Lisa Klein Ransom’s work, there are few different books “Finding Langston,” “[Leaving] Lymon” and “Being Clem,” which are all those books were all related to each other.

 It’s great. It’s really great. Sometimes it’s really appropriate to have the perspective of the main character be represented or reflected in the narrator, but other times though, we can certainly let our imagination roam a little farther than that in terms of representation, but with the idea of really representing the ideas and the story and the people very well, who are in those books. Does that make sense?

Steve Thomas: Yes, yeah, absolutely. Do you do any special preparation for audio book roles? Like I assume you read the book, but are you taking notes as you’re reading the book, do you read it multiple times?

Dion Graham: Those are really great questions, and people do different things. For me, yes, for sure, I read the book. That’s really important, and it’s also delicious to me to do that anyway, but yeah, I read the book, and when I read it, I usually read it, I almost don’t, in fact, I can’t think of another time when I’ve read it in preparation more than once.

And as I’m reading it, I’m reading it like a reader, like a consumer of the story, just taking it in, but also I try to be just aware of what I’m hearing. Like sometimes a character will step forward in my imagination. And they’ll be really clear. If I have questions, I definitely will jot that down, questions either about meaning or words or something going on.

I’m not someone who keeps copious notes. I will have notes sometime. For instance, I’m thinking about “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”, it’s a book of Marlon James’s I did. It’s great first book in this Africa-inspired fantasy trilogy, and that book had so many curly cues. I wrote the questions down and we got to talk about them later, but that’s really important. So that’s what I kind of do in terms of preparation. Otherwise, I just want to put myself into the place that just as I’m beginning to narrate the book. I know everything I need to know and nothing else so that I can run and leap off the cliff in terms of telling the story and see how it develops.

Steve Thomas: And I guess how you approach a character might change, obviously as you read the book and you go, “Oh, he’s the bad guy!” so it can change.

Dion Graham: Yeah. It’s why I think it’s really important to have read the book, so that you have the total scope. And also, I think one thing that’s really important is to be open to discovery. So, we can discover the book through the narration so that I can discover the book as I’m telling the story too.

And it’s interesting because books are different, and styles of books are different, as well, sometimes, from what I just described you in terms of discovery, but there are other times when we have an omniscient narrator who is coming from a point of view and that definitely is coloring how the story is being told. Sometimes I’ve been in stories where it’s like, ” uh oh, uh oh,” but we don’t know what the “uh oh” is all about until we get to the end of the story.

Steve Thomas: Do you get notes along with it, like does the author say, “well, make sure you do this,” or phonetic pronunciations of names if there’s a name that you can’t quite figure out?

Dion Graham: Definitely. It’s always important to me, if I can, to have a conversation with the author before we begin. I just find that inevitably, I always find out something that I would not have known that enhances the storytelling, by having the opportunity to have a chat like that, and it’s just really important. And I think all of the authors that I’ve worked with, nobody has been really prescriptive about how it has to happen, but I do have my questions for them. And we find out about what the author would like for people to take from it, and that’s just totally informing the story.

I’m laughing because I’m thinking about there is a book by Matt de la Pena, and it’s called, “Ball Don’t Lie”. I think it might have been his first book, I’m not sure, but anyway, I’ve narrated a handful of titles that he has, and he’s really great, I love him. He’s a YA author. But in this book, this book follows the main character of a young white boy in LA, he’s got some social anxiety and he’s had some psychological damage from things in his life. His mom committed suicide for instance, but the place where he feels most at home is on the basketball court, and he’s extremely talented. And specifically he’s most at home on street ball courts with black and brown men in LA. So every now and then the seemingly detached, omniscent, third person narrator, there were a couple of times where there was a personalization. Like I remember one time in the book where it says, “Well, I forgot to tell you about Sticky.” And I asked Matt. I said, “So who is the narrator? Is it his friend we made at the end of the book?” And Matt said, “Oh no, it’s the game.” And I was like, “What? The game of basketball?” He was like, “Yeah. Street ball actually.” And I never would have known that had I not asked him, and that completely, subtly, but completely changed the narration to the way it’s pulled out and the perspective of it. And it was a mind blow as far as something to think about, like the game of basketball, which is that knowledgeable about so many things and knowledgeable about all of the players on these street courts and their life experiences and what they’re struggling with and what they’ve overcome or what they are grappling with, what they’re trying to get through, and how that informs where this character of the narrator is coming from. It was really brilliant. I felt really glad that we’d had that conversation, but I think that’s an example of why I always feel like for me anyway, it’s worthwhile. I always find it useful.

Steve Thomas: And you mentioned earlier that somebody had asked for you, do you get authors asking you to do their work often?

Dion Graham: I do. I do. I do. I think, lots of people are aware of my work in this realm, but also in the other realms of what I do, but certainly, I get lots of requests, lots of authors who would like for me to be their avatar.

Dave Eggers is funny. Dave jokingly refers to me sometimes, “I love that you’re my megaphone.” It’s great. I do most of Dave Eggers’s works as well. I haven’t done all of them for various reasons. Usually it’s a one-off he was giving another friend of his a chance to do it, but most of the work of his we’ve been collaborating for a long time, the first book of his I did was “What Is the What”, which is written in collaboration with and about one of the lost boys of Sudan, it’s a really beautiful book. And in doing that, Dave and I were at a talk out in California one time about that book, and we’re in the car getting there and Dave says, “So I’ve heard that most people are coming to the book through this, this audio book that you made. It’s like, that’s fantastic.” I was like, “Oh, that’s really cool.” He was like, “Yeah and they’re, they’re really loving it. So, would you do the rest of them?” “Sure, man, sure.” So I feel really fortunate that that’s the case.

Steve Thomas: And speaking of him, you did his most recent book, “The Every.” That’s the sequel to “The Circle”. What was the experience like recording that one? Both of those you did the narration for, how did those books make you feel and how did you feel kind of connecting with them?

Dion Graham: That’s a great question, Steve. Well, all I can say is, they are, I don’t want to say that they’re just tech phobic, what they are is he begins “The Circle” talking about the idea of, what if these mega social media corporations, and other big companies like Google and Facebook and what else could I pick? Apple. What if they all came together to form a big company that would be called “The Circle”? And, even though it’s hilarious, I’m like, ha ha, well, gosh, that’s funny. Yo, look, look at these people and what they’re doing and in a very funny, but then also you can think like, oh, Hey, wait a minute. That’s really close to how we actually live. That’s true. When I’m in the hotel and I sign into the internet, I don’t even read the whole verbiage that I have to click on. I accept, I just do it automatically. And he’s looking at like how what is the impact on our society?

Look at the big hacks that we’ve had that have compromised our, the privacy of our emails, for instance. And so he’s looking at all that. And then of course he said what he had to say in “The Circle” and the fact that when “The Every” came out, “The Every” imagines, what if that huge conglomeration of all those companies, which came into a big company, what then, if they merged with like the big retailer now, like Amazon, would that be good for our society or would that be problematic for society in terms of like how we were being led and what the impact would be?

So I’ll tell you that narrating that was a riot. It was great. It’s hilarious, but it is also deeply, deeply harrowing, just as soon as you think, like, oh my goodness. That’s great. Oh, that’s not too far, by how we actually live right now. So it was great. It was great. I really, really feel really great to have been able to bring that to life too.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. As they say, it’s funny because it’s true.

Dion Graham: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s funny cause it’s true. And we don’t want it to be true necessarily, but hello!

Steve Thomas: Well, like that’s some dark humor, but it’s humor and you’ve done serious things, you’ve done non-fiction and fiction. How do you approach the material? Do you have any specific way you kind of get into a mindset or is it always just you approach each book individually?

Dion Graham: I do. You just said it. I really just approach each book individually, in terms of what I feel the book is talking to me and talking to us, as readers, listeners, and it’s interesting because sometimes I think a book might even, I will have read it and I’m happy to have had an experience. It’s great. I think it’s going to unspool one way, but when I start narrating it and things come forward that are in the book, I realized that, the story it gets told in a different way.

And sometimes you think, wow, I didn’t imagine it would play out like that. But in fact, this is in the book. Cause sometimes when we’re reading a book, we sometimes can read fast, we go fast over some things that I think when you listen to it, there’s no opportunity to do that. Like you don’t skip by the bloody part whether that’s metaphorically bloody or it’s literally bloody, you don’t skip by it because you can’t speed up in your mind about it.

Steve Thomas: Well, when you’re approaching nonfiction work, like, you have “The Nineties” by Chuck Klosterman, do you read that in your own voice? Or how do you think of that when it’s like not a character in particular that’s telling a story?

Dion Graham: That’s a really good question. Well, first thing I would say is, everything is coming through me, through my understanding of the book and through my physical being, but I would say my thing, I guess, is I’m really always trying to be in response to actually the book, to what the author is saying in the book. With that book, if I remember correctly, I haven’t listened to it yet, but he is narrating a lot of it himself, and I was doing some setup pieces for him or some pieces that are in conversation with his narration or bracketing his narration to set them up.

So, that’s one type of role that I played in that kind of book, but there’s other kinds of non-fiction is what popped up in my head. I narrated Matt Desmond’s “Evicted” years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner, and various other awards, and that book is a really important piece of work, looking at the role that eviction plays in our society and also not just as a manifestation of poverty, but as something that creates poverty sometimes or enhances that situation. And his writing is so powerful. It’s a book that after he had embedded himself for a couple of years in some very challenged communities in Milwaukee different parts of the town, actually in different backgrounds of people that town. So to look deeply at those people’s lives and eviction and the role that it was playing in their lives, and I just felt what I tried to do was take a very simple approach to it so that I could be surely out of the way of murking anything up. And then I also tried to, when I was reflecting the characters in that, I also just tried to be an open channel and just subtly allow what was going on with them to be brought to life, cause it felt like the right approach. And I felt good about how that played itself out because it’s an important book. So all that to say, Steve, it like depends on the book, but I don’t have any formulas that I try to adhere to.

There’s a book that I narrated some years ago called, oh, what’s it called? I think it’s, “They Called Themselves the KKK” or something like that, and the way that book, which is targeted towards young people, spooled itself out, it had characters and the way this book was written, I just really fully embodied the characters because that’s what made sense. That’s how the book spoke to me. And I’m thinking it’s a different bookend to this, but I just recently read, it’s going to come out in a short while I think called “Freedom”, it’s again targeted to young folks, but of course it’s for everybody, but it’s about the Black Panthers and this book, I find it very positive, but also very fervent. And I allowed the narration to come from that place. So as opposed to doing it from thinking about all I’m doing it for myself or not for myself, no. I just really more thinking about the message of the book and what the book is saying. If that makes any sense. I hope that makes sense.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. You did mention that some authors do request you, but how do you go about choosing what you say yes to whether it’s the author coming to you or the publisher, whoever?

Dion Graham: Oh, that’s a really great question. First of all, let me just say, I get offered a lot of great material. I’m really fortunate that that’s the case for me. I get offered a lot of great material. I mean, I’ve progressed a long way from the first book I did and no disrespect to that book. I get offered a lot of great material from the different realms of literature, and that’s great.

Steve Thomas: It’s a long way from recording James Joyce into a cassette.

Dion Graham: Yes. Although that is incredible material and I’d love to record that again, professionally, but actually, yeah, you’re right. It is. But what I was gonna say is, as long as it’s a good story, and if the writing is great, that’s easy for me. Sometimes if the writing might be more complicated or problematic or are tougher nut to crack, I definitely won’t turn that down. I just try to find out how to reveal this story, but I feel fortunate that I get off. I get offered a lot of great stuff, Steve, so if I’m available and if I can make room for it, I’m down for the journey.

Steve Thomas: How much time would you say it takes for you to record the audio book once you’re kind of all set up ready to go? Like, if it’s 20 hours long, does it take you 30 hours? You know, something like that.

Dion Graham: If it’s 20 hours long, I’m usually two to one that is usually for one hour of recorded material, it usually takes me two hours. It can be faster sometimes, sometimes it might be a little slower. It depends on how the book is written. Some books are denser than others, but usually it’s two to one for me. So like a 20 hour book would take me 40 hours generally on an average to do. Yeah.

Steve Thomas: And during the pandemic, do you record at home?

Dion Graham: I do not record at home. Mad respect to all the people that I know, and anybody who does record at home and who enjoys that, I myself prefer to record in the studio where other brilliant people who know what they’re doing in engineering and all that can do that, and I’m utterly free to be a wizard in the laboratory, if you will, doing the other side. I feel really fortunate that that’s the case, but that’s, that’s what I do. During the early day of the pandemics, early days of the pandemic, that’s what I mean, none of the pandemics let’s have no more please, but early days to the pandemic, when things were a little bit shut down, I had a friend who has a studio that’s not far away from me in their house and he’s excellent, and so I was able to keep going. We didn’t have to pause and there are a lot of things come down the pipe, so for a short period of time, we did a number of things there, and that was great, but I’m really glad to be back in the studios that I work in regularly. Again, it’s really great.

Steve Thomas: It makes it kind of a team effort, less so than a TV show or a movie where you have dozens or hundreds of people around, but a small group of people like you and the engineer and a few other people.

Dion Graham: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes it’s me and an engineer. And sometimes it’s a director, not all the time and sometimes there’s not, which is great. So I feel really blessed that usually there’s a lot of trust from my directors, from the authors about me bringing it to life. And that’s really great.

Steve Thomas: Well, before we wrapped up, I wanted to ask also about another current new release that you have, “Dirty Bird Blues” by Clarence Major.

Dion Graham: I just finished recording it two days ago. So that is a Penguin Random House book. And also by the way, shout out to Penguin Random House who have connected us today, Steve, some of my favorite collaboratives? Yeah. No, definitely. And we’ve had some really great collaborations. A producer that I had worked with a couple of times before brought this to me and, wow, what a book it is. It’s very blues inflected, and it’s coming out of a man who is a blues musician, who is come up from the south to try to do his thing, and his family’s come up from there. But, it’s funny when I did get a chance to talk to the author and I asked him, “What do you want listeners to take from this?” And so he said, “Well, do you mean what the book is about? It’s a love story. He loves his wife. He loves his music too, and there’s a lot of conflict and friction in between trying to really serve both of those. And that’s all throughout the book. It’s great. Cause there’s blues music that the author wrote, when I say this music there, there are songs, there’s no music to them, but they’re songs that he wrote that I did bring to life in there, original interpretations, and it’s taking place around 1949. So it’s really specific, but it’s quite a piece and it’s really kind of in a blues idiom a lot too from that period of time.

Steve Thomas: Well, you started with a book where you were rapping and now you’re doing the blues.

Dion Graham: [laughs] Right? Exactly. And also just so you know, in “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” I also was a griot. There were two parts that were griots basically singing the experience in song, or I don’t know, we would call it singing, but they were definitely bringing musically to life, different characters’ experiences in there. Yes. So there you go. You’re right. Music is sometimes intwined.

Steve Thomas: Well, we talked about libraries at the beginning, your good memories there. How does it feel now that your work is there on libraries, inspiring people today?

Dion Graham: Oh my goodness. My goodness. I feel so honored, Steve, I feel really just humbly honored that that is that’s really true, and I feel really blessed, overwhelmingly people seem to be responding so positively and so involvidly and committedly to the audio books that I’ve had a hand in bringing to life and it’s just a real blessing. And libraries in general, they just remain a big revered institution to me. I certainly spent a lot of time with my kids in libraries for the same inspirations that I had as a young child. And, I just think they’re just really important and we always want to make sure that they stay alive, and here for us to use and to immerse ourselves in and to like, just learn from and to take advantage of.

So I feel really blessed by this. I hope that your podcast also is a way of connecting listeners to library experiences as well. I have so much respect for librarians cause it’s a life commitment to some things that I think are really, really important to young people, but then to the young adults and people getting older, just all the way through the whole spectrum of life. It feels like a really important shepherding if that makes any sense.

Steve Thomas: Yes. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for coming on the show today, Dion. If people wanted to get in touch with you, is there a way they could get in touch with you to ask you questions?

Dion Graham: They can always ask you, Steve, if anybody has a question from your audience, they can always send it to you and know that it will get to me because you know exactly how to get in touch with me.

Steve Thomas: Yes, I will pass it along.

Dion Graham: I want to give a shout out to a work that has just come out recently, too, by the great Robin McLean, this is her debut novel, which has had massively great reviews. It’s called “Pity the Beast.” It’s a modern take on the Old West. It’s also been described as this eco- feminist Western, that makes me chuckle to say that, but it’s definitely a ride, but it’s really worthwhile.

Steve Thomas: Well, that sounds cool to me. So lots of good recommendations here for things to listen to. So get out there and get to your library and get these checked out.

Dion Graham: Yeah, definitely. Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure to be with you, Steve.

Steve Thomas: Thanks, Dion.

Dion Graham: You’re welcome.