Listening Pathways: Dion Graham

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Dion Graham is an American actor and audiobook narrator. Before launching his career as a narrator, he was most well known for his role on the TV show The Wire. Graham has narrated over 120 audiobooks, representing a truly dizzying array of genres, subjects, and styles. Mystery, biography, literary fiction, children’s, YA, fantasy, science fiction, history—whatever genres you enjoy, you’ll have no trouble finding many Dion Graham audiobooks to suit your tastes. He’s lent his considerable vocal talents to just about every kind of book.

As all audiophiles know, the narrator of an audiobook is all-important. A good narrator can transform a book from the ordinary to the extraordinary. And as far as narrators go, Dion Graham is the best of the best. His voice is rich and emotive, making even the driest bits of a long biography or history come alive. His ability to inhabit characters seems limitless; his myriad character accents are always flawless. More than almost any other narrator, his voice transports me so completely that I’m convinced the characters themselves are speaking directly to me. His brilliant work has garnered him many awards, including the AudioFile Golden Voice award, a spot in the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame, and several Audie and Earphones awards.

With over one hundred Dion Graham audiobooks to chose from, it can be hard to know where to start. Use this listening pathway as an introduction to Dion Graham’s remarkable work. Once you’ve listened to one of his audiobooks, I guarantee you’ll find yourself eagerly seeking them out.

Start With Some Nonfiction

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.

At only 51 minutes, this recording of King’s famous essay is a great introduction to Dion Graham. Short of listening to King read it himself, listening to Graham read it is the next best thing. His voice is passionate and authoritative, full of ringing emotion. He doesn’t try to imitate King’s particular way of speaking, but allows the words to speak for themselves. The result is a powerful performance of a powerful piece of writing, just as relevant today as it was in 1963.

EvictedEvicted by Matthew Desmond by Matthew Desmond

This deeply upsetting look into the systems of poverty that keep so many families locked in untenable housing situations is not an easy read. Desmond uses the stories of eight families in the Milwaukee area to analyze the intersections of racism, economic exploitation, and poverty in America’s housing crisis. It’s a hard but important book to get through. Graham’s narration is nothing short of inspired. I listened to this 11.5 hour audiobook in two days, unable to put it down. He treats the subject matter with the seriousness it deserves while perfectly balancing the many different voices and speaking styles of the people in the book. He keeps the listener hooked through the whole multifaceted narrative, making personal stories, academic analysis, critique, and interviews equally engaging.

Next, Slide Into Some YA

dear martin nic stone book coverDear Martin by Nic Stone

After listening to Graham narrate Letter From Birmingham Jail, you’ll definitely want to pick up this YA novel about police brutality and activism. Justyce is an 18-year-old black teenager living in Atlanta. When he’s cuffed and attacked by a police officer, he begins writing letters to Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to answer the overwhelming question of how to live as black man in America. Graham’s talents are on full display here, as his voice captures all of teenage Justyce’s anger, fear, exhaustion, and hope.

Then Listen to Some Fiction, Historical and Futuristic

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan book coverWashington Black by Esi Edugyan

Now that you have a sense of the magic Graham can work with his voice, you’ll want to listen to something that gives him the chance to show it off. Washington Black is the perfect novel for that. This historical novels follows Washington Black, a slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, on his winding journey to freedom. Wash travels the globe, encountering characters from many countries. From Wash himself to people native to various parts of the U.S. and Caribbean, the far North, Nova Scotia, England, Amsterdam and Morocco, Graham brings them all to life. The novel is far-ranging in scope and theme, and Graham’s narration elevates it even further. I guarantee you’ll feel like you’ve visited every place this twisting story takes its protagonist.

We Cast a Shadowwe cast a shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

In this chilling dystopian novel, Ruffin paints a bleak picture of the future of race in America: a new medical produce is now available that can “turn people white.” The protagonist and narrator, a lawyer, is determined to secure this procedure for his son. Bleak, satirical, and full of cutting social commentary, it’s got a whole lot to say about identity, self-worth, and American racism. Ruffin uses first person narration to brilliant effect, and Graham carries that brilliance through to his performance. Despite continually feeling like you’re being punched in the gut, it is impossible not to sink into the inner world of the unnamed narrator. Graham’s voice is so natural and authentic that he simply becomes the protagonist, and through him, so does the reader. It’s an immersive experience.

Finish With an Epic Fantasy

Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon JamesBlack Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Now that you’ve had some time to fall in love with Dion Graham’s narration, you’re ready to settle in for the long haul. At 24 hours, this book is a commitment. But is it ever worth it. It’s by far my favorite of all the Dion Graham audiobooks I’ve listened to. It’s one of those books that I simply can’t imagine reading in print. The narration is so good and so central to my understanding of the characters and the world that without Graham’s voice to guide me, I’d feel like I was missing something.

The book is a lush, winding fantasy epic set in an Africa-inspired world. It follows Tracker, a hunter with a powerful nose, on a quest to find a missing child. Graham’s narration is nuanced and alive, as complex and twisting and gorgeous as the novel itself. James’s world comes vividly awake in his narration, and makes everything more: the brutality, the violence, the tender moments.

A few of my other favorite audiobooks narrated by Graham include: Another Country by James Baldwin, Evicted by Matthew Desmond, and Locomotion by Jacquline Woodson.

Looking for more great Dion Graham audiobooks? He’s featured on this list of prolific audiobook narrators and this list of some of the best audiobook narrators on Audible.