She grew up in a pile of books, where Steinbeck and Marquez moved her to worlds unlike her own. Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams was born on the Mariana Islands, but for 12 years her parents reared her at sea, on a yacht called Slow Dancer. “I was free to climb the mast, hang off the railings, fall overboard—it was great,” she remembers. With such a romantic upbringing guiding her through the ocean’s crest and troughs, variations of blue ever more on the horizon, words became more than means for communication.
“It’s all my parents’ fault,” Abrams quips about becoming a writer. “If they’d raised me decently, with tons of television and video games, I’d be doing something much more rational and much less masochistic.”
Her father’s voice and billowing words inspired a mind that would learn the microcosm of authoring to be far more strange. It’s a place where head-talk often takes over the truth, and patience of finding the essence of a story gets challenged, minute by minute. Like many writers, Abrams doesn’t take to the process easily.
“[I] have a staring contest with my [computer] screen,” she says. “You blink. No, you blink . . . I think there will always be a nagging, woeful certitude sitting cross-legged on my shoulder and screaming, ‘Pitiful!’ and ‘That’s total crap!’ every time I type a sentence. For some reason, the voice is always British.”
Through such tribulations, what emerges is the dame’s definitive rhythm of poignancy and visionary pathos. A snippet from her short story, “The Wolves,” shows as much is true:
“The unleashed sail like torn paper. Nesting wasps tumble down in black bundles, loosening. The wind, salt-heavy, deposits gray scales on the skin. Today, I’ll fish a blue Linckia starfish from the fire coral, keep it in a yellow bucket.”
Something succinctly pulls the senses and twists it with anticipation in between the lines. The language is enticing, to the point, and engages a poetic pace of time and place.
Today, Abrams is engaging her first memoir, “The Following Sea,” something she never considered before. “In fact, I tried for years to write anything but a memoir, because, you know, then you obviously have to be in it,” she says. Her life on the ocean mandated that laid-back mien, where everything slows down and becomes free.
“Spending my formative years in that semi-isolated, nomadic condition made me appreciative of the intimate communion books have to offer,” Abrams notes. “[I] appreciate, too, those that like to tangle with what is inscrutable.”
Currently at work on her novella, too, titled “The Man Who Danced with Dolls,” the release date will be late 2011 or early 2012 with Madras Press. As if her literary plate weren’t full enough, she also teaches at her alma mater, UNCW, where she received her MFA in creative writing. Still but not sedentary, today, her roots are a bit more grounded than her childhood, but nonetheless encompassing and rich.
“Having spent the first half of my life moving constantly, it’s been blissful to be at home in Wilmington and with the university,” she says. “Working full-time and being a writer [is] insane, but I love teaching.”
Abrams’ course load includes Intro to College Writing and Reading for UNCW’s English Department, where her “students are wonderful” and her insatiable interest for world literature continues to grow. More so, her excitement comes with a genuine magnetism.
“Since the academic community is becoming increasingly devoted to global citizenry and transnationalism, I’m beside myself with all the new directions in which we can go,” she notes, hopefully.
UNCW’s creative writing program plays a major impetus into the 32-year-old’s dedication to her career. According to the wordsmith, her English professors, who have proven their brilliancy and support time and again, saved her. The guidance of Sarah Messer, Rebecca Lee, Wendy Brenner, Clyde Edgerton and John Jeremiah Sullivan all provided her proper tools and insight to write non-fiction.
“I’m a language-driven writer with a penchant for magic realism,” Abrams explains, “and it was these gurus who showed me I didn’t have to play by the rules when I started [my] book.”
She already set herself among a small few: an ilk of female writers playing in the male-dominated world of publishing. She takes pride in that fact, too. “I celebrate women sending out and getting published,” she says. Abrams has endured priceless help, with fellowships and grants, including the the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, specifically for women, The North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, the Hartsook Fellowship, the Robert H. Byington Award and the Lavonne Adams Award.
Students and future authors alike can take a cue from Abrams’ discipline—something she says is of most importance in maintaining sanity and progress. “It’s awful hard,” she says. “I almost always loathe what I wind up writing—and more often than not, I just want to hurl my body at the floor and pound my little fists and wail.”
Yet, it doesn’t deter her from finding the good. Actually, so much good exists among the endless pool of writer-extraordinaires, it sets the standards quite high—as well as the incumbent groveling following every finiished sentence. And isn’t that the bane of any author’s existence? Self-criticism? “Oh, it’s beyond critic. Have you read or seen ‘Fight Club’?” Abrams banters.
To fellow authors, wannabe writers and especially students, words to the wise do exist. When embarking on any work, Abrams notes the importance of “good sentences, good story, some subtlety of plot, some leaps of image and language. I know some great writers,” she notes. “Ask me, and I’ll point you in their direction.”
One need not look any further than the deep blue, really. Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams will release the story of her family’s journey along the South Pacific in “The Following Sea,” date to be determined.