From recently named Oregon Book Award winners come two vibrant books in the nonfiction and young adult genres. Elena Passarello's collection of essays, "Let Me Clear My Throat," takes as its subject the whys and hows of voice—a deconstruction of the ways in which sounds express and shape who we are. Kari Luna's debut novel, "The Theory of Everything," is a delightful mash-up of teenaged whimsy, particle physics, and a journey of discovery and coming-of-age. Described as "A Wrinkle in Time's fun-loving, hipster cousin," "The Theory of Everything" is a mind-bending adventure. Both authors will appear this Sunday at the Deschutes Public Library at 2 pm.
The Source caught up with Elena Passarello on her time as a voiceover artist, the New Orleans annual Stella Screaming Contest and the nature of voice and how it defines us.
Source Weekly: "Let Me Clear My Throat" focuses on the power and utility of the human voice. How did you come to this intriguing topic?
Elena Passarello: Before I went back to grad school to study nonfiction writing, I worked in theatre and as a voiceover artist, which required me to be pretty scrutinizing about voice— my own and other's. And really, I'm just fascinated by how our voices work so closely to our senses of self. We think we know so much about a person based on how they sound to us, especially in the realms of performance, popular culture, and politics. So that's really what I wanted the book to be about—15 unforgettable moments in the history of the human voice.
SW: Earning ultimate street cred, you won the 2011 New Orleans annual Stella Screaming Contest – an honor never before bestowed upon a woman. How did you prepare? How did this experience influence the book?
EP: My original intention was to go down there and lose. I thought the anguish and defeat that comes from losing would connect to the anguish the character of Stanley feels in A Streetcar Named Desire. I also thought I could make my loss really funny. But then I got down there and saw all these dudes and just started feeling really competitive— the way I used to feel in an audition waiting room. I also had drunk a game-changing amount of bourbon (this was New Orleans after all). Because I didn't prep or support my voice, I was absolutely wrecked afterwards. I couldn't speak for a good 72 hours. I flew home, hoarse as can be, and the next day I went to the Freshman English class I was teaching at the time. When I walked in the room, I heard myself screaming! The contest had ended up on YouTube, a few of my students had found out about it, and they were playing it for each other on their smart phones. Talk about surreal.
SW: What are you currently working on? Will you stay with this topic, or are you working with new material?
EP: I just finished an essay on the musician Prince, who I think has one of the best voices of the century, though I tried to focus on something other than that aspect of him. I've been commissioned to write an essay on cat videos for a book that Coffeehouse Press and the Walker Art Center are publishing, so I've been "researching" cat videos pretty heavily. And I have a new book of essays in the pipeline, all about famous animals, like Dolly the cloned sheep or Arabella, the spider taken up to space to spin a web on Skylab. The new manuscript, which Sarabande Books will publish in 2016, has just been a blast to write. Writing about animals takes the focus away from the voice, I've noticed, and I'm excited about that change in content.
Second Sunday: Oregon Book Award Winners
With authors Elena Passarello and Kari Luna
2 pm. Sunday, Sept., 14
Downtown Bend Library