March 24, 2013

Giving voice to books

Tavia Gilbert has recorded more than 200 audio books, learning along the way that sometimes it gets deeply personal.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Tavia Gilbert didn't know Rachel Corrie. She only learned Corrie's story after the young woman from Olympia, Wash., died a violent death in the Gaza Strip.

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Tavia Gilbert in the home studio in Portland where she records audio books, most recently “Let Me Stand Alone” by Rachel Corrie.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

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Tavia Gilbert

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Corrie was a peace activist protesting Israeli military tactics, and was crushed by an armored bulldozer that had targeted a civilian house. Corrie put herself between the bulldozer and the house.

But the bulldozer didn't stop.

Gilbert learned of Corrie's story from her own mother, who called one night after hearing Corrie's parents speak. "She reminded me so much of you," Gilbert's mom said.

With that, Gilbert's quest had begun. She read Corrie's writings, collected in a book titled "Let Me Stand Alone," and began researching the young woman's life. Their similarities struck her.

Both were from the Pacific Northwest -- Corrie from Washington and Gilbert from nearby northern Idaho. They were about the same age. They shared political leanings and were passionate about their beliefs.

"She was braver than I," said Gilbert, a Portland actor who makes her living doing voice work and recording audio books. "But she could have been anybody's daughter, sister, friend."

Last week, Gilbert put the final touches on her recording of Corrie's book. It's a project long in the works, and it required her to get to know Corrie's parents and win their approval. She also recruited actor Ed Asner, best known as Lou Grant on the TV series "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Lou Grant," to record the introduction, which was written by Corrie's father, Craig.

The audio book is scheduled for release in early May.

"It's been a labor of love," Gilbert said. "Rachel was killed 10 years ago on March 16, so it is deeply meaningful to spend some time with her words. She was a remarkable young woman -- a thinker and a writer far beyond her years. She was a lightning rod for Israeli-Palestinian relations because of her tragic death.

"But her work as a humanitarian and an activist began in her early childhood, and she certainly would have continued to do remarkable work had her life not been so unnecessarily cut short."

The Corrie project represents a personal highlight in the career of a Portland actress who has appeared on stages around the region many times but who has made her mark with the anonymity of her voice.

Over the past five years, Gilbert, 35, has recorded almost 200 books, including several by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard. She just earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing, and has begun focusing her sights on a career that includes both reading and writing as well as acting.

Her audio career is soaring. In 2012, the Audio Publishers Association nominated her for an Audies Award -- the highest honor in the business -- for her narration of "The Dirty Life." Other nominees in her category were Tina Fey and Michael Moore.

Overall, she's received three Audie nominations and two Earphone awards given by AudioFile for "exceptional presentations."

Because of her success, Gilbert is outgrowing Portland. As much as she loves living here, she plans to give up her cozy West End apartment and move to Brooklyn, N.Y., later this spring.

"I've been doing everything I can to develop my career from Maine, and I've been super fortunate. But if I want to take my career to another level, I have to go to New York," she said.

Her agent has been encouraging her to make the move for some time, teasing her with the promise of work in theater and film as a well as voice work. "There will just be more opportunities there," Gilbert said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Among the books recorded by Tavia Gilbert is “In the Water They Can’t See You Cry” by Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard.


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