Listen to 90 Famous Authors & Celebrities Read Great Stories & Poems

In a logo­cen­tric culture—as Jacques Der­ri­da defined it—such as has exist­ed in the West for hun­dreds of years, writ­ing occu­pies a hal­lowed space, and lit­er­ary or philo­soph­i­cal writ­ing all the more so. The rhythms of every­day speech, the ges­tures and sig­nif­i­cant looks that char­ac­ter­ize our quo­tid­i­an inter­ac­tions are deemed less impor­tant than the pre­sum­ably indeli­ble marks on the page. Of course, before the writ­ten word, or at least the print­ed word and wide­spread lit­er­a­cy, speech was pri­ma­ry, and no lit­er­ary cul­ture exist­ed with­out it. From philoso­phers con­duct­ing peri­patet­ic dia­logues, to priests recit­ing scrip­ture, to bards recit­ing poet­ry in tav­erns, the nuances of voice and ges­ture were insep­a­ra­ble from the text.

Of the many rev­o­lu­tion­ary qual­i­ties of the inter­net, one of them has been to restore to lit­er­a­ture its voice, as lit­er­ary read­ings (pre­vi­ous­ly the pre­serve of a priv­i­leged few able to attend spe­cial­ized events and con­fer­ences) become avail­able to all. Whether through Youtube video and audio or mp3, lovers of lit­er­a­ture around the world can access the voic­es and vis­ages of authors like Maya Angelou (top, read­ing “Still I Rise,” with some ad libs), whose total­ly dis­tinc­tive face and voice don’t sim­ply sup­ple­ment her work but seem to com­plete it. We can hear W.H. Auden him­self read “As I Walked Out One Evening” (above, from a 1937 record­ing) in his deep bari­tone. We can hear Sylvia Plath read “Ariel” (below) and many more poems from her final col­lec­tion of the same name.

We also have the plea­sure of hear­ing, and see­ing, oth­er read­ers inter­pret the work of authors we love, such as the per­fect con­flu­ence of text and voice in the Tom Waits’ read­ing of Charles Bukowski’s “The Laugh­ing Heart,” below. Oth­er notable poet­ry read­ings by some­one oth­er than the author include James Earl Jones’ ren­di­tion of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and Allen Ginsberg’s reading—or singing, rather—of the poet­ry of William Blake. And while poet­ry should always be read aloud, it can be equal­ly rev­e­la­to­ry to hear great prose works read, by their authors and oth­ers.

In the list of 90 read­ings below, excerpt­ed from our col­lec­tion of 630 Free Audio Books, you can find works by Faulkn­er and Hem­ing­way, read by Faulkn­er and Hem­ing­way, and Melville’s Moby Dick, read by a host of celebri­ty voic­es. And much, much more. So take some time and recon­nect with the voic­es and faces of lit­er­a­ture, which are as impor­tant as the words they pro­duce. And if you know of any read­ings online that aren’t on our list, feel free to leave a link to them in the com­ments.

  • Angelou, Maya – Still I Rise & On the Pulse of the Morn­ing (read by author) – YouTube
  • Apol­li­naire, Guil­laume – Le pont Mirabeau (Read by author in 1913) – Free MP3
  • Auden, W.H. - As I Walked Out One Evening (read by author) – YouTube
  • Auster, Paul – Free MP3 – The Red Note­book (read by the author)
  • Barthelme, Don­ald - “Con­cern­ing the Body­guard” (read by Salman Rushdie) – Free MP3
  • Blake, William - Songs of Inno­cence and Songs of Expe­ri­ence, as read by Allen Gins­berg — Free Stream/MP3
  • Borges, Jorge Luis – The Gospel Accord­ing to Mark (read by Paul Ther­oux) – Free MP3
  • Brad­bury, Ray – If Only We Had Taller Been (read by the author) – YouTube
  • Brad­bury, Ray – The Veldt (Read by Stephen Col­bert) – YouTube
  • Brad­bury, Ray – Sto­ries Read by Leonard Nimoy – YouTube
  • Brod­key, Harold – Spring Fugue (read by Jef­frey Eugenides) – Free MP3
  • Brod­key, Harold – The State of Grace (read by Richard Ford ) – Free Stream
  • Brown, Mar­garet Wise – Good Night Moon (Read by Susan Saran­don) – YouTube
  • Bukows­ki, Charles – The Laugh­ing Heart (read by Tom Waits) – YouTube Audio
  • Bukows­ki, Charles – The Crunch and Roll The Dice (read by Bono) – YouTube Audio
  • Bukows­ki, Charles – The Secret to My Endurance (read by the author) – YouTube Audio
  • Calvi­no, Ita­lo – Invis­i­ble Cities (excerpts read by Calvi­no) – Free Stream
  • Car­roll, Lewis – Alice in Won­der­land – Alter­na­tive ver­sion read by Cory Doc­torow of Boing­Bo­ing
  • Carv­er, Ray­mond - “Fat” (read by Anne Enright) – Free MP3
  • Carv­er, Ray­mond – “The Stu­dents’ Wife (read by Richard Ford) – Free MP3
  • Carv­er, Ray­mond – “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (Read by Carv­er) – Free MP3
  • Cheev­er, John – “The Death of Justi­na” (read by John Cheev­er) – Free Stream/Download
  • Cheev­er, John ” The Enor­mous Radio” (read by Nathan Eng­lan­der) –Free Stream
  • Cheev­er, John - “The Reunion” (read by Richard Ford) – Free MP3
  • Cheev­er, John – “The Swim­mer” (read by Anne Enright) – Free MP3
  • Cheev­er, John – “The Swim­mer” (read by Cheev­er) – Free Stream/Download
  • Chabon, Michael – “S Angel” (read by author) – Free Stream/Download
  • Coleridge, Samuel – Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Ver­sion read by Orson Welles
  • Cum­mings, EE - Some­where I Have Nev­er Trav­elled – (read by author) – YouTube
  • Cum­mings, EE - Any­one Lived in a Pret­ty How Town – (read by author) – YouTube
  • Dan­ti­cat, Edwidge - Water Child (read by Junot Diaz) – Free MP3 – Free iTunes
  • DeLillo’s, Don – “Baad­er-Mein­hof” (read by Chang-rae Lee) – MP3
  • Dick­ens, Charles – A Christ­mas Car­ol (Read by Neil Gaiman) – Free Stream
  • Faulkn­er, William – Faulkn­er Reads – Free Stream
  • Fer­linghet­ti, Lawrence – Selec­tions from A Coney Island of the Mind (read by author) – Free MP3 – Free Stream
  • Frost, Robert – Stop­ping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (read by author) – YouTube
  • Frost, Robert – The Gift Out­right (read by author) – YouTube
  • Gins­berg, Allen – A Super­mar­ket in Cal­i­for­nia (read by Gins­berg) – Free MP3
  • Gins­berg, Allen – Amer­i­ca (read by Gins­berg) – Free Stream
  • Gins­berg, Allen - Howl, A Strange New Cot­tage in Berke­ley, and Super­mar­ket in Cal­i­for­nia (read by Gins­berg) – Free MP3/Stream
  • Gordimer, Nadine – “A Style of Her Own” and “The Bride­groom” (read by the author, 1961) – Free Stream/Download
  • Gordimer, Nadine – “Loot” (read by author) – YouTube
  • Hem­ing­way, Ernest – Ernest Hem­ing­way Reads Ernest Hem­ing­way –Free Stream
  • Hem­ing­way, Ernest - Homage to Switzer­land (read by Julian Barnes) – Free MP3
  • Hem­ing­way, Ernest – “In Harry’s Bar in Venice” (a short sto­ry read by Hem­ing­way: .au for­mat.gsm for­mat.ra for­mat)
  • Hem­ing­way, Ernest – “The Snows of Kil­i­man­jaro” (read by Charleston Hes­ton) – Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4
  • Joyce, James – “The Dead” (Read by Cyn­thia Nixon & Colum McCann) – Free Stream
  • July, Miran­da - “Ron Spivey” (read by David Sedaris) – Free MP3
  • Kaf­ka, Franz – “A Hunger Artist” (read by Hanif Kureishi) – Free MP3
  • Kin­caid, Jamaica - “Fig­ures in the Dis­tance” (read by Chi­ma­man­da Ngozi Adichie) – Free Stream
  • Kin­caid, Jamaica – “Girl” and “Wing­less” (read by Edwidge Dan­ti­cat) – Free Stream
  • McCann, Colum – “Transat­lantic” (read by author) – Free MP3
  • Melville, Her­man – Moby Dick read by Celebri­ties – Free iTunes – Sound­cloud – Big Read – More details
  • Moore, Lor­rie – “Paper Loss­es” (read by Gary Shteyn­gart) – Free Stream
  • Nabokov, Vladimir - My Russ­ian Edu­ca­tion (Read by Orhan Pamuk) – Free MP3 – Free iTunes
  • O’Connor, Flan­nery – “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” (Read by author in 1959) – Stream/Download
  • Oates, Joyce Car­ol - “Mas­tiff” (read by Louise Erdrich) – Free Stream
  • Ozick, Cyn­thia – “The Shawl” (read by Joyce Car­ol Oates) – Free Stream
  • Paley, Grace – “Love” (read by George Saun­ders) – Free Stream
  • Plath, Sylvia – Ariel (read by author) – YouTube Stream
  • Poe, Edgar Allan - The Raven (as read by Christo­pher Walken) – Free YouTube Audio
  • Poe, Edgar Allan - The Raven (as read by James Earl Jones) – Free YouTube Audio
  • Pound, Ezra – Ses­ti­na: Altaforte (read by author) – YouTube
  • Pritch­ett, V.S. – The Res­cue (Read by Jonathan Lethem) – Free Stream
  • Rich, Adri­enne – Mourn­ing Poem, Spring Thun­der, White Night and oth­er poems (read by author) – Free Stream/Download
  • Rumi – Like This (read by Til­da Swin­ton) – YouTube
  • Sara­m­a­go, José - “The Cen­taur” (Read by Nadine Gordimer) – Free MP3
  • Seuss, Dr. – Green Eggs and Ham (read by Neil Gaiman) – YouTube
  • Sex­ton, Anne – Wait­ing to Die (read by author) – YouTube
  • Shake­speare, William – The Son­nets (read by Sir John Giel­gud) – Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
  • Shel­ley, Per­cy Bysshe – Ozy­man­dias (read by Bryan Cranston) – Free YouTube
  • Singer, Isaac Bashe­vis – Dis­guised – Free MP3 (read by Nathan Eng­lan­der)
  • Stevens, Wal­lace – “Cre­dences of Sum­mer” and “An Ordi­nary Evening in New Haven” (read by the author) – Free Stream/Download
  • Thomas, Dylan – A Child’s Christ­mas in Wales (read by Thomas) –Youtube
  • Thomas, Dylan – Do Not Go Gen­tle Into That Good Night (read by the author) – Free MP3/Stream
  • Thomas, Dylan – Do Not Go Gen­tle Into That Good Night (read by the Sir Antho­ny Hop­kins) – Free YouTube
  • Thomas, Dylan – The Wild West (read by the author) – Free MP3/Stream
  • Thomas, Dylan – Under Milk Wood (read by the author) – Free MP3/Stream
  • Updike, John - “Play­ing with Dyna­mite” (read by Roger Angell) – Free MP3
  • Updike, John – “A & P.” (read by Alle­gra Good­man) – Free MP3
  • Wal­lace, David Fos­ter - “Con­sid­er the Lob­ster” (read by DFW) – Free MP3
  • Wal­lace, David Fos­ter - “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s” (read by DFW) – Free MP3
  • Wel­ty, Eudo­ra “Where Is the Voice Com­ing From?” (read by Joyce Car­ol Oates) (MP3)
  • Whit­man, Walt – Song of Myself (read by James Earl Jones) – Free Stream/Download
  • Wilde, Oscar – The Hap­py Prince read by Stephen Fry – YouTube
  • Williams, Willam Car­los – The Red Wheel­bar­row, Tract, The Defec­tive Record, To a Poor Old Woman, A Coro­nal, To Elsie, The Wind Increas­es, Clas­sic Scene (read by poet 1954) – Free
  • Wolff, Tobias – “Bul­let in the Brain” (read by T. Cor­aghes­san Boyle) (MP3)
  • Wolff, Tobias – “The Night in Ques­tion” (read by Akhil Shar­ma) (MP3)
  • Yeats, William But­ler – The Fid­dler of Dooney (read by the author) – Free MP3
  • Yeats, William But­ler – The Song of the Old Moth­er (read by the author) Free MP3

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

Crash Course on Lit­er­a­ture: Watch John Green’s Fun Intro­duc­tions to Gats­by, Catch­er in the Rye & Oth­er Clas­sics

Thug Notes Demys­ti­fies 60 Lit­er­ary Clas­sics (from Shake­speare to Gats­by) with a Fresh Urban Twist

What Are Lit­er­a­ture, Phi­los­o­phy & His­to­ry For? Alain de Bot­ton Explains with Mon­ty Python-Style Videos

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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