Famous Writers: voices from the past

I was listening to a news radio broadcast this morning. An item, from a BBC transmission, was broadcast and I thought that it sounded interesting and useful for students of literature.

The British Library has a huge archive of recordings of many of the famous writers of the 20th century. These were sitting in their archive vaults until someone had the idea to release them as part of a new series of CDs called the Spoken Word project.

The British Library CDs were called a literary goldmine in the Guardian newspaper and include recordings of 30 British writers and 27 from the US. These are rare recordings of some of the 20th century’s greatest writers and the amazing thing is that most of them are being heard for the first time since they were in front of the microphone.

Excerpts from the collection, that I heard this morning, included the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf and a recording of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle explaining the creation of his Sherlock Holmes character. It was really interesting to hear the actual voices of the writers and their thoughts on writing, etc. rather than someone else speaking for them. The CDs also include F Scott Fitzgerald reciting Othello, Tennessee Williams lambasting critics and Raymond Chandler drunkenly slurring his way through an interview with Ian Fleming.

Listen to extracts (about 12mins) from the recordings or download the podcast

The CDs called The Spoken Word: British Writers and American Writers is released on 23rd October by the British Library. They would be an excellent addition to our library and, as I am shortly to get a new card, this will be one of my purchases.

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