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Kate Fleming, 41; narrator was a star in the audio book world

December 24, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Kate Fleming expected to be an actress but then discovered the world of book narration.

The pleasures of reading aloud and the ancient tradition of storytelling inspired her. She plunged into roles, researching the geography of a book's setting, developing her version of men's voices, checking the correct pronunciation of words as she prepared to record a new book.

After more than eight years and 200 titles to her credit, Fleming, who often used the pseudonym Anna Fields, was a star in audio book circles. She had her own company and was branching into directing other actors in their narrations. On Dec. 14, however, a flash flood swept into the basement studio of Fleming's home in Seattle during a severe winter storm. She was trapped, and rescuers could not reach her in time to save her.

Fleming was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she died. She was 41.

As a stage actress in the late 1980s, Fleming appeared with the Woolly Mammoth Theatre and the Washington Shakespeare Company, both in the Washington, D.C., area. She segued into book narration work after she moved to Seattle in the early 1990s.

Two years ago, she founded Cedar House Audio, a production company, and began directing other actors while continuing to work as a narrator.

"Acting didn't satisfy Kate the way [book] narrating did," Lyssa Browne, production manager for Cedar House Audio, said last week. "She felt competitive about acting, but she felt generous about narrating, so she knew that was the right direction for her."

Soon after she got started in the business, she was narrating books for Books on Tape, Blackstone Audio Inc. and BBC Audiobooks America.

A tribute to Fleming on the Blackstone website describes her as "one of the top narrators in the business" whose "rich voice and restrained style suited her to an extraordinary range of material."

She was particularly good at ethnic accents, which she researched in Seattle's restaurants. "Kate was notorious for going to an [ethnic] restaurant with a list of words she wanted to know how to pronounce," Browne said.

Fleming was the voice of a Vietnamese policeman among other roles in "The Time in Between," a novel by David Bergen about a Vietnam War veteran who returns to the country.

In other novels she was the voice of a Chinese grandmother and a Native American woman.

Among nonfiction books, she narrated "A Beautiful Mind" about mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. and read parts of the 9/11 Commission Report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

In 2004, Fleming won an Audie Award for her work on "All Over Creation," a novel by Ruth Ozeki about farmers in the age of agribusiness.

She also recorded walking tours for Rick Steves, a travel guide whose company is based in Edmonds, Wash.

Kathryn Ann Fleming was born Oct. 6, 1965, in Arlington, Va. She earned a bachelor's degree in religion from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and studied at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky.

In Seattle, she volunteered to help build a library of donated audio books for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and recorded books and other materials for the blind.

Fleming's survivors include Charlene Strong, her partner of nine years; her mother, Audrey Fleming; six sisters; and a brother.

Contributions in Fleming's name may be made to Harborview Medical Center, Patient and Family Needs Fund, 1325 4th Ave., Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98101. The family would like funds directed to the hospital's intensive care unit.

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