The Rural We: Alison Larkin
Photo by Sabine von Falken
Alison Larkin is an internationally acclaimed comedienne, actress, producer, screenwriter and the award-winning narrator of more than 150 audiobooks, many of them New York Times bestsellers that have appeared on countless “Best of the Year” and “Pick of the Month” lists. The Stockbridge, Mass. resident also is the bestselling author of The English American, a novel based on her life. Larkin was born in Washington, D.C., adopted by British parents and raised in England and Africa, and returned to the U.S. at age 28 when she discovered her birth mother living in Bald Mountain, Tenn. Her celebrated one-woman show based on the novel has been performed on both sides of the Atlantic and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable organizations. Larkin was recently named Ambassador of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation in the United States, and for every Jane Austen audiobook purchased through her website, Alison Larkin Presents…, $5 will be donated through the Foundation to the Literacy Network of South Berkshire (LitNet).
I was raised in England by adoptive parents, and I came to America when I was in my mid-20s to find my birth mother, who lived in Tennessee. Afterwards, I moved to New York to become a standup comic. I realized the beauty of comedy is that you can talk about anything you want as long as you make it funny. I started talking about this life-changing experience I’d had, finding her, and wondering how I could describe it in a way that didn’t make me sound like a lunatic. I ended up creating a one-woman show about it, told from an adoptee’s point of view. This led to its sitcom development, but then I had kids and realized I loved being with genetic relatives that I actually liked, so I turned the show into a novel.
I’d been in Los Angeles, doing a lot of voice work, when we decided to move back east, but I felt I couldn’t return to the mentality of the part of Northern NJ I’d been living in or raise kids in that environment. A friend of mine asked if I’d ever thought of the Berkshires, so I came up to Great Barrington on a whim… in February. Everyone told me not to go up in February, but I came here in a snowstorm and thought “this is where I want to raise my then 9- and 7-year-old because there will be like-minded people here… and I love to ski.” That was six years ago. It’s England without the English.
The way we were able to stay up here, is the novel turned into an audiobook, and a company then guaranteed to publish a bunch of audiobooks with me, and built me a studio in my home. I call it the “audiobook cottage.” My most recent audiobook is Fairy Tales of the Fiercer Sex, which I released on Jan. 21 in celebration of the Women’s March on Washington. It’s a collection of fairy stories of girls who go on their own adventures and don’t wait around, just brushing their hair, for princes to come rescue them. One of them is the opposite of Sleeping Beauty – a girl rescues a prince. Some of the stories were written down by famous writers like Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm, but many have been folk tales for centuries. Some I knew, like The Snow Queen, and some I’d never heard of before. I found it quite inspiring; for centuries, women have been breaking the norm and passing down these tales. Being a producer of audiobooks, I’m having a merry time bringing out stories of nontraditional, complex females.
On March 17, I’m directing and emceeing a comedy improv sketch and standup show with local teenagers at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. This is one of the most exciting things I’ve done in a while. It’s all original material; the teens are speaking in their own voices through comedy. Change will come from the next generation, and that’s where I want to put my attention.