Book World Loses Narrator Kate Fleming

Kate Fleming, one of the country's most talented narrators of audio books, died last week. Fleming drowned after rainwater from a severe storm flooded her basement studio.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One of the victims of last week's storms in the Pacific Northwest was Kate Fleming. She was a star in the audio book world. Her fans knew her as the narrator Anna Fields. She was killed when a flash flood trapped her in the basement studio of her home.

NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY: Though not well known outside the audio publishing world, Kate Fleming had narrated more than 200 books. She used the name Anna Fields as a tribute to her great-grandmother. Fleming started out as a stage actor but fell in love with the art of the spoken word. Lyssa Browne is the production manager of Fleming's home-based business, Cedar House Audio.

Ms. LYSSA BROWNE (Production Manager, Cedar House Audio): She recognized the intimacy of the medium, and that she knew she was in people's ears and in their ear buds, and she tried to just be so faithful to the book and not let her personality shine through in any way. And I think it was her succeeding at that that made her so popular as a narrator.

NEARY: Among the books Fleming narrated were “The Falls” by Joyce Carol Oates, “The Painted Drum” by Louise Erdrich, and even parts of the “9/11 Commission Report.” In 2004, she won an Audi, audio book publishing highest award, for her narration of Ruth Ozeki's “All Over Creation.”

(Soundbite of “All Over Creation” narration)

Ms. KATE FLEMING (Narrator): (Reading) He put his hand on her arm as she reached the refrigerator door. Honey, I know how you feel. She elbowed him aside. No, she thought, you don't. She broke the eggs one by one into a bowl, beat them, and lit a fire under the skillet.

NEARY: Last Thursday, when the storms broke out in Seattle, Fleming's home and business were threatened by flooding. She ran to the basement to recover her recording equipment. Lyssa Browne had just gone out briefly to mail a FedEx package. When she came back, she learned that Fleming couldn't get out.

Ms. BROWNE: One wall of the foundation had been knocked out by the -essentially, a flash flood. And it came in so quickly that she was trapped and we just couldn't get to her.

NEARY: By all accounts, Fleming was full of ideas. One of them was a campaign to persuade the audio book publishing industry to donate books for injured troops at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. She contacted Barbara Lau, executive director of Cause, an organization which runs a digital library at Walter Reed.

Ms. BARBARA LAU (Executive Director, Cause): They all contributed, and I mean thousands of audio books. We shipped boxes and boxes overseas to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because, really, we had more than we could use in the library. We just didn't have the storage space.

NEARY: Fleming was 41 years old. She is survived by her partner, Charlene Strong.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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