LJ Talks with Eunice Wong, Audie and Earphones Award–Winning Narrator

LJ talks with Audie Award– and multiple-time Earphones Award–winning narrator Eunice Wong to learn more about her creative process and how she has found her voice and style.

LJ caught up with Audie Award– and multiple-time Earphones Award–winning narrator Eunice Wong to learn more about her creative process and how she has found her voice and style.

You’re an actor, writer, editor, voice artist, and a yogi, too! How did you get started with audiobook narration, and how does it connect with your other creative work?

I did a few titles for Audible pre-pandemic, which came out of an Audible workshop for Juilliard drama alums, but I didn’t actively pursue audiobooks until COVID shut theaters down. Audible in 2020: “You don’t have a home studio, correct?” Me: “Welp, time to get a home studio.” I had no idea of the journey I was about to take!

Audiobooks are a ridiculously perfect amalgamation for me. My theater background is fundamental to my acting in audiobooks and the ability to inhabit a text. If anything, audiobooks are a more challenging form of acting. My experience as a writer helps me read deeply, finding the subtext and vital temperature shifts in the writer’s voice. My work as a print editor helps me assess the structure of a sentence, paragraph, or chapter, which supports my performance. And yoga—ha, hours in a booth would drive me batty if I didn’t come out and do handstands!

Your characters vary widely, from your Audie Award–winning performance of Vera in Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers to the chef in C Pam Zhang’s Land of Milk and Honey. How do you craft such unique voices and styles?

I just got out of Vera’s way before she powerwalked over me in her visor and orthopedic shoes! It’s all about being receptive to what the author is giving you. I tell my students that they need to read deeply. Put your antenna up for what lies beyond the surface of the words. Each book has its own personality, just like any human being, and each writer’s voice is distinct.

As an actor in any medium, your instrument is YOU and your life experiences: your memories, losses, sense of humor, dreams, and greatest joys. Whatever the character or book, you have to find something you strongly connect to; it’s that seed that the voice grows out of. In audiobooks, which are almost never rehearsed, the actor’s life experience and passions become even more important because, in a way, our lives are the rehearsals for the books we narrate.

What is one challenge that you have encountered as an audiobook narrator?

That would be Land of Milk and Honey. The tug-of-war between my brain and intuition has always been intense, with my brain trying to strong-arm everything, and this particular book said, “Nuh-uh, Brain. Back off.” This book has powerful undercurrents of emotion, but they run beneath the gorgeous language, so I was trying simultaneously to tap into the emotions while not yanking them too hard, all while making the heightened language sound natural and spontaneous, the way you do with Shakespeare. I was so grateful to work with a great director, Paul Ruben, who took over the brain function and allowed me to run almost fully on intuition, which frankly was terrifying. It sounds woo-woo, but as Bono says, you have to step into the song. You have to let the song sing you. You have to surrender control.

When we finished, I had no idea how the thing would sound. Do you know how unnerving that is?! I had no distinct memory of the performance. My brain had left the building, and intuition only operates moment to moment, so it has no memory. Again, terrifying. It’s changed my process for sure—now I know I can do that!

You recently narrated Katherine Min’s posthumous novel The Fetishist. How did you feel about narrating this work that examines the fetishization of Asian women? And what did you think about the ending?

I LOVED The Fetishist. I’ve dealt with the fetishization of Asian women my whole adult life (sigh), and it was exhilarating to dive into its deconstruction, especially in a book as hilarious and moving as this one. When I was offered the project, it came with a warning about the themes, which I really appreciated, but I was like, bring it on. Let’s drag this thing out and shine a Maglite in its eyeballs. I don’t want to say too much about the ending, but it’s a perfect example of the nuance found in this book. A generosity and open-heartedness about where any particular person comes from, while still facing the darkness and eventual harm they may cause…

What do you love most about narrating audiobooks?

First and foremost, I love the intimacy of being right there with the listener. I also love the great range of books I’ve been entrusted with: literary fiction, mystery, thoughtful sci-fi, classics, thrillers, and nonfiction dealing with everything from mass extinction and climate change to Shakespeare. And kudos to my wonderful producers; I don’t think it’s an accident that so many of these projects are very personal to me—it goes back to audiobook actors drawing upon their own lives and experiences. Thanks to audiobooks, I’ve finally found the balance between working regularly as an actor and still being there for my two kids, husband, and two very attached greyhounds. And finally, I’ve loved books and reading out loud my whole life, since I was three and recorded myself reading Cinderella. Squeakiest mouse voices ever.

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