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August/September 2018

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You know actor LeVar Burton from "Roots," "Reading Rainbow," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and more. He's also an audiobook narrator, and he hosts a podcast, "LeVar Burton Reads." AudioFile's Josephine Reed talked with him about what it was like to narrate the biography of one of his heroes, Fred Rogers. This is an excerpt of their conversation; listen to the full podcast on AudioFile's blog: audiofilemagazine.com/blog/ category/the-download Josephine Reed: LeVar, I'd like you to begin by telling me your thoughts when you were asked to read The Good Neighbor. LeVar Burton: My agent had called and said, "There's a project that I'm working on for you. There's interest but nothing is written in stone." And when he told me about the project, when he mentioned that it was Fred Rogers's biography, I told him, "I don't want anybody else to do this title. This one's got to be mine." JR: And tell me why you were so deter- mined to do it. LB: Because I'm such a fan of Fred Rogers and his work and his legacy, and I consider him both a friend and a mentor to me. And I know the man has meant an enormous lot to a lot of people, and I'm no different. I wanted to be the one to tell that story. I wanted to be the voice of Fred's biography because I felt like it would be a way for me to honor him. JR: When and how did you meet Fred Rogers? LB: The first time I met Fred Rogers, it must have been in the early '80s in Crystal City at a PBS gathering, an eve- ning cocktail soirée. And I remember being very excited because I was going to meet the man behind the guy on TV. That was my belief that—that [his televi- sion persona] had to have been an act. I was looking forward to meeting the real Fred Rogers, not the guy that he played on TV. And so imagine my aston- ishment when upon meeting him, it was very clear to me that that was no act, that Fred Rogers was that present. He was that focused. He was that attentive. He was that open. He was that loving. Fred was a remarkable human being, and you got it instantly by being in his pres- ence that that was absolute authenticity. JR: Was this before or during your own long-lasting series, "Reading Rainbow"? LB: I was at the very beginning, I think we had maybe completed one, maybe two seasons. JR: It's so interesting because, you know, he's the man for Gen Xers who grew up with him, and that's the spot you occupied for millennials who grew up with you on "Reading Rainbow." LB: You know, Fred and I, we talked a lot about just how necessary it was to use one's television pulpit, as it were. Fred was a Presbyterian minister. I stud- ied for the priesthood earlier in my life. And we talked often about the appropri- ateness of using our television ministry for the purpose of enriching the lives of kids. And it was really Fred who freed me from any sort of a conflict in that regard, that it was not just an opportunity I had but that it was a duty of mine to fulfill, to focus on an audience of children with content that was nurturing, that had value, that was not simply entertaining, but was educational as well inspirational, uplifting. That was the street on which Fred and I met, you know? Both of us recognized that this very powerful medi- um had a built-in engagement factor. Much the same way that tablets and digital devices have today, television we both recognized as a very powerful ally in the battle to give our kids the best edu- cation we possibly could. JR: Tell me how you approached narrat- ing this biography of Fred Rogers. LB: I decided not to go for Fred's voice [in the quotes]. I mean, he's got a very distinctive twang. And my decision to not try and do Fred's voice was based on my belief that in just delivering Fred's words, that the importance and import and magic and just the great basic common-sense nature of his point of view and philosophy In Conversation with LeVar Burton 22 n AudioFile/www.audiofilemagazine.com Photo courtesy of LeVar Burton

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