LeVar Burton, known to many Americans as the longtime host of PBS’s “Reading Rainbow,” wants to spread the love during the coronavirus crisis with a new story-reading series he’s launching on Twitter — for kids and adults.
Burton says he plans to host three “LeVar Burton Reads” sessions a week on Twitter (at @levarburton): Mondays at 9 a.m. PT will be children’s selections; Wednesdays at 3 p.m. PT will be for young-adult audiences; and Fridays at 6 p.m. PT are for adults.
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In an interview with Variety, the actor-director-writer said he was inspired by seeing musicians and DJs launching live-streaming performances during the COVID-19 outbreak. “It was recognizing the moment and stepping into it,” Burton said. “I thought, ‘I could do that.’ This is something I love doing — reading aloud. That’s what I am, I’m a storyteller. I believe stories have the power to bring us together. Clearly there is a need.”
The series kicks off this Friday, April 3, during which Burton plans to read Neil Gaiman’s “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale.” On April 6, his readings are scheduled to include “The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm,” the picture book he co-wrote with Susan Schaefer Bernardo, and “Amazing Grace” by Mary Hoffman. The YA selections will be stories from Jason Reynolds’ “Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks.”
“I’m looking to give people some diversion and escape… not apocalypse,” Burton said. He noted that even though the plot of the Gaiman story deals with contract killers, “It’s not dark — it’s humorous.”
Burton currently hosts a podcast of the same name, produced and distributed by E.W. Scripps Co.’s Stitcher division. In recent episodes he’s read selections by Toni Morrison, Max Gladstone, Ken Liu, Darcie Little Badger, Nancy Kress, Savannah Burney, N.K. Jemisin, Elizabeth Bear and Michael Chabon.
But he wanted to do something besides the podcast, just for free, without any commercial deals. At first, to avoid rights issues, he looked at works in the public domain — but “I was unsatisfied with what I came up with,” Burton said.
Last month, when he tweeted about his frustration with the process, Gaiman responded, saying, “You have my blanket permission for any of my stories Levar.” That, Burton said, is what “began this journey in earnest.” Soon after, best-selling YA author Jason Reynolds gave his OK as well.
Twitter also has extended help to Burton, who is doing the live-streaming readings from his home in the San Fernando Valley. “Twitter is going out of their way to make sure I’m comfortable with the technology,” he said.
Burton said because of the COVID-19 crisis, numerous speaking engagements he had been booked for have been canceled. He also has directed several episodes of CBS’s “NCIS: New Orleans,” but that works is up in the air like virtually every other TV and movie production right now.
“Like everybody right now, I’m currently unemployed,” he said, although he continues his podcast with Stitcher.
Burton, 63, landed his first major acting role in ABC’s 1977 miniseries “Roots” as the young Kunta Kinte. Burton went on to star in as Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reprised the role in films including “Star Trek: Generations” and “Star Trek: Insurrection.”
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