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

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.