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A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas : The Beginning of The Audio Book Industry

I remember as  a 4th grader, hearing for the first time A Child’s Christmas in Wales read by my teacher, Miss Dallow.  A few years later, I heard an audio recording of the story on what was known as a  “record player” (there were no CDs or MP3s  at the time)  read by the author, himself, Dylan Thomas.

If you have never heard it or read it, A Child’s Christmas In Wales, it  is worth the 20 minutes to hear it as you most likely will never forget it. It is a wonderfully evocative ans romantic  look into a childhood Christmas and  snow, made all the stronger by hearing the majestic, Shakespearean voice of the Dylan Thomas. If ever there was a hard-drinking, tormented poet with a voice for radio, it was Dylan Thomas!  There are several versions available for free on the internet but the recordings all have  noise on them. You can get the iTunes download , which is crisp and clear, for $5.99 on Itunes which includes some other poems as well (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight).

The original Recording

The original Recording

The original 1952 recording was a 2008 selection for the United States National Recording Registry, stating it is “credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States.

Barbara Holdridge and her best friend, Marianne Roney had just graduated from Hunter College in 1952  when they made a move that would forever change the literary world. Looking for a way to get into the record business, the two young women heard that Welsh poet  was due to give a public reading at New York’s 92nd Street YMCA.

They decided they would go and record him.

This year is the 60th anniversary of Caedmon Records, the company Holdridge and Roney formed to record the spoken word performances of Thomas, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and other famous writers. The idea was a catalyst for today’s  $5 billion audiobook industry.

NPR reports  that at the time Holdridge and Roney pursued Thomas, he was “at least as well known for his drinking as his writing.”

Holdridge, who was then Barbara Cohen, tells NPR that she and Roney went to the Y and were “snobbily turned away by the usher, who said, ‘Mr. Thomas will not see you.'”

They signed a note with their first initials and last names so that Thomas “would have no inkling that we were women,” Holdridge recalls. “Little did we know he would have been extremely interested if he had known that we were young and unmarried.”

But the women persisted and finally did get in touch with Thomas. They paid him a sum of $500. and a royalty for his efforts.  As NPR reports, “Several missed recording studio appointments later, there stood Dylan Thomas, poems in hand. But not enough, it turned out, to fill a long-playing record. A catastrophe in the making, remembers Barbara Holdridge, since the B side had to have something on it, or they couldn’t put out the record.”

They asked the poet if he had anything else he could record. Holdridge says: “He thought for a minute, and he said, ‘Well, I did this story that was published in Harper’s Bazaar that was a kind of Christmas story.'” It was A Child’s Christmas in Wales . When so much seems worn for us adults at this Christmas season, everything becomes new and child-like again in listening to this recording.