Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams
Reading at Pomegranate Books
4418 Park Avenue
Sat. 2/18 • 7 p.m.
Many find the importance in the power of language. The Port City’s very own Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams takes it to the nth degree. Words offer a way for her to interpret the world —and what an enchanted and dreamy world she grew up in. Born on the Mariana Islands and reared on a yacht called “Slow Dancer,” it was an upbringing filled with starry skies, cresting emerald and white surf and one that sailed her straight into a destiny meant to transform the lives of those around her.
“In order to make sense of things I had to read constantly and then write it down,” she says. “Language saved me. There’s a part of me that could have gone to be a hyper-rational human being without it.”
A teacher of English literature at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she has earned an MFA in creative writing, Abrams was a recipient in 2010 of the Rona Jaffe National Literary Award—also of whom Z.Z. Packer and Rivka Galchen were recipients. Today she welcomes her first book-length work titled, “The Man Who Danced with Dolls” (Madras Press).
A tale inspired by a documentary devoted to subway buskers—which circled the Cucalorus Film Festival years ago in Wilmington—“The Man Who Danced with Dolls” takes a single image of a man slowly, if not romantically dancing with his “gal” (i.e. doll) in the underground transportation system of NYC. It captivated Abrams for years before she transformed it into her winter mystery. Narrated by main character Opa Bergen, the story opens in 1984 Paris and tells of the family’s legacy, their diverse world of language and culture that ranges from German to French to Arabic. Their beautifully portrayed picturesque memories are hidden among a forgotten past, but it ties together by one silent swaying subway busker. Abrams’ tone speaks naturally to the imagination as if listening to one’s own family member recount the heritage.
Abrams also found inspiration for her latest release from the specific juxtaposition of certain details, various moments and vivid memories of her life. Without further giving too much away, the woman who disappears in the snow derived from a tiny snippet Abrams found in the news, which stemmed from, of all places, Illinois.
“There was a news story that surfaced there about a couple leaving a party,” she notes. “When they left, they were killed in the car wreck. They found his body—but not hers until the spring, [after] the snow all melted. I was captured by the idea of her footprints in the snow, leading to nowhere. Images and moments like these find their place in whatever it is I’m writing. It shows, I’ve been writing all along even if I’m not physically typing.”
In her first reading at Pomegranate Books this Saturday, Abrams will do a Q&A, joined by fellow UNCW creative writing instructor, friend and author Rebecca Lee (“City of the Rising Tide,” “Bobcat”). Also flying in from Boston will be Madras Press editor and UNCW MFA alumni, Sumanth Prabhaker. “The Man Who Danced with Dolls” is one of a quartet of new titles to be published by Madras this spring. Best of all, proceeds of sales will go directly to the New Hanover Humane Society, a cause near and dear to Abrams heart.
“It was difficult to pick a charity,” Abrams notes. “There are so many out there, [I] want to run in all directions to help. But I chose the New Hanover County Humane Society—it’s my hope as well as theirs that they will one day be a no-kill shelter, and I’m contributing to them in support of that goal.“
Such selfless giving is the Madras Press method of operation for its authors, as each is allowed to elect a recipient for net proceeds to be donated. Included are organizations devoted to environmental fortification, community progress, human services and a slew of many more.
“He’s doing something so important in the world of publishing and he’s an amazing writer in his own right,” Abrams says of Prabhaker and Madras Press. “They give a home to these stories that are otherwise thought of as ill-fitting for most of our magazines or journals today. Either they’re too long, too experimental or they’re just best read on their own. He honors the craft of writing.”
With an openly antagonistic relationship existing in nearly everything she writes, in a parallel life Abrams feels as if she were raised differently, a part of her could have been an attorney just as her father.
“He had a lot to do with why I’m a writer,” she says. “We were nomadic, so I didn’t have friends as regularly that land-bound kids would have. . . . He would also make up his own stories. Every afternoon and every night we would read to each other on deck on the hammock.”
Instead (and thankfully) the literary world can call her its own. Abrams’ perception entertains in a brilliant display of prose. She offers powerful insight of art and beauty in all she touches.
“I love what I do, but I’m driven crazy by what I do,” Abrams notes. “At the most basic level, I hope people are entertained for a little while. Beyond that, I hope they’re charmed by the poetry of the character who I borrowed from the subway. I also hope the idea of someone who lives on the fringes of society fascinates them as it did me. That would be lovely.”
Abrams will be at Pomegranate Books on Saturday the 18th at 7 p.m. She will celebrate her work by reading from “The Man Who Danced with Dolls” and signing copies for those who attend. To order online, visit www.madraspress.com.