Writer and Performer Abel Prudhomme
By Nuala Lincke-Ivic

"From the age of six years old, if you would have asked me, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' I would have quickly answered, 'A writer.' But if you had altered the question slightly and asked,'What do you think you will be?' I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, 'I don't know; maybe a postman?'"

Introduction to Abel Prudhomme

portraitsI first met Abel Prudhomme via his email (make that emails) to me requesting that he be allowed to add my spring 2012 online creative writing class—which was full. I didn’t answer his email immediately; I didn’t see it, and when a new semester looms on the horizon, I’m busy fielding dozens of emails like his. So Abel called in the troops: He emailed another instructor about adding my class, and she emailed me about Abel adding the class. Her email to me made me look for Abel’s email to me, which I couldn’t find, but that was all right, because meanwhile Abel had emailed me again, and in his email he told me that he had been waiting for a long time to take the creative writing class. I don’t think he said he had been waiting his whole life, but the email was fairly dramatic, so I added him. Later, I wasn’t sorry that I had added him, as is sometimes the case when I add someone to an already-full class. I was amazed, but not sorry. He’s an exceptional writer. However, I didn’t realize that fact at first.  When I first began to read Abel’s writing, I suggested gently that he make his prose more accessible; yes, I think “accessible” was the word I used. What did I write to him—about that first flash fiction piece he wrote?  Oh, yes. “Perhaps you should consider making your prose more accessible to a broader reading audience.” Something like that. Only “erudite” people would appreciate his writing, I told him. Abel’s flash fiction piece “One Night” was very good in terms of theme and execution, as is evident in this excerpt below:

Music in the distance? But it wasn’t this.  No, nor the stillness of everything else.  Just that one gradual thing woke him up; that inability to shift. 

Brilliant, beautiful, poetic, insightful…yes, it was and is—and (as an English teacher) I knew that not many people would read or understand this story. They’d need to work their way up to it, start with pieces from The New Yorker.   “The Gravedigger,” Abel’s second flash fiction piece—while I liked it immensely—was even more inaccessible to a broader reading audience, in my opinion, and I point to the following excerpt as support for this contention:

 Surrounded by my court, my hypocrites; am I not chief of thee?  Truth buried in the ground; I weep for thee, myself, my darling; true self whom none shall now ever know.  (Tears that are not falling are choking me, choking me!) 

And of course, “Trapped,” Abel’s third flash fiction piece, was more of the same: Few people would read and understand it, and I point to a passage from this piece as support for this contention, too.

 These words I know confuse thee more than tell, yet burdened heart from me to thee must spill.  Yea, ’though this madness follows hard from depths of inky grave.  Oh, ho, usurping heart, behave, behave!  ’Tis so!  ’Tis so!  He lives!!  Hamlet lives!!

Of course—and thankfully—Abel didn’t listen to my advice to make his writing more accessible to a broader reading audience, and I stopped listening to my advice, too. Who cared about all that nonsensical, logical advice about writing something that’s accessible (i.e., immediately relatable and relevant) to a broader reading audience; I didn’t care, and the truth is I have never cared about that kind of thing (Northanger Abbey is my favorite Jane Austen novel), and besides, what Abel was writing was too good to be bothered by such a trivial concern. He was doing nothing less than writing Part 2 of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet—and the flash fiction pieces were helping him to clarify his thoughts.

Abel’s play Hamlet, Resurrected is Part 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Abel’s play, Hamlet hasn’t really died; everybody just thinks Hamlet is dead, and then Hamlet isn’t dead and he has to deal with the mess he and others have made of his life. Abel’s play is wonderful. I love it. And of course, it’s written in what appears to be 17th century English. It’s not accessible to a broader reading audience, but truly, that’s not Abel’s fault: Most people don’t read Shakespeare unless they’re forced to read Shakespeare in a high school or college literature class, and the Shakespeare play their teacher is so cruel as to make them read is usually Romeo and Juliet, although sometimes it is MacBeth or Hamlet.   And there you have it: Most people’s unwilling and churlishly granted exposure to Shakespeare.

Of course, for the relatively few people who read and enjoy Shakespeare, Abel’s play is a treat. I feel that I know the Bard would LOVE Hamlet, Resurrected. Shakespeare would find Abel’s play very, very flattering, not because it’s derivative of Shakespeare (i.e., “Imitation is the best form of flattery”), but because Abel grew to love Hamlet and feel deep compassion for him, so much so that he did not let Hamlet die. But! Let me not give away more of the play’s plot; let me save this reading treat for you. You can click on the “Plays” section in this issue of West, and read an excerpt from Abel’s play Hamlet, Resurrected. To protect this new work copyright infringement, this magazine offers only an excerpt of the play. To read the complete play, interested theatre-goers and theatres can contact Abel Prudhomme care of West—or do what everybody does to find someone: Google him. Meanwhile…learn the answer to a question I asked myself when I began to read—and be amazed by—Abel’s writing ability: “WHO IS THIS GUY?!” My interview with Abel Prudhomme follows.

 


INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

Nuala Lincke-Ivic: I read your play, Hamlet, Resurrected during our creative writing class—hot off the press, as it flowed from your mind onto the computer screen.  After I read the first draft you gave me, my first thought was: "WOW...!"  I love Shakespeare, and this play reads like Part 2 of Hamlet."  It's wonderful: themes, diction, tone, plot, structure...!  I think the Bard would be very pleased by your play.  Of course, my second thought, after I thought everything above, was:  "WHO IS THIS GUY?!"  Who are you, Abel Prudhomme? 

Abel Prudhomme: [I am a] Christian, Poet, Preacher, Father, Husband, Friend. Tombstone headings all, but to remain in the context of this interview let me say that…I am a poet. I am a writer.  Being a poet is something I accepted long ago. It defines me. How I love, how I think, how I relate to the world around me and the people in it; how I relate to God. Ah, but that I am a writer… that I am a writer, even now as I sit here answering this virtual interview, that is something I only finally accepted this year: an epiphany of measure.

From the age of six years old, if you would have asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would have quickly answered, “A writer.” But… if you had altered the question slightly and asked, “What do you think you will be?” I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know; maybe a postman?” Flash forward to some of the things I’m about to tell you, and you find that I have stopped waiting to be something that I am. And then – it all began. I published two books, I went on a monthly speaking circuit, and I began to perform publicly what I had before only performed in private.

NLI: From our emails back and forth, I know you work full-time, attend college, are a performance artist, write creatively, and have two children, Jason and Abel Jr.  How do you manage to find time for your art when you have so many responsibilities? 

AP: This summer I will write a book. The title that I am considering is Recession Battle Plan: How to Work Three (3) Jobs, Take Seven (7) College Classes, Participate Regularly in Community Outreach, Spend Quality Time Raising Your Children, Keep Your Spouse Happy, Stay Physically Fit, and Still Catch a Good Movie Once in Awhile. Don’t say, whew! Say "let’s go," because it is all do-able! How? One word: love! Two words: plan - execute. Three words: Be the leader! Four words: Do not fool around! Five words: Do the next thing first! Five more words: Do the first thing next! Six words: Always stay ahead of everyone else! More words: Be asleep when you are supposed to; drink that ten glasses of water, eat that whole food, take those vitamins, keep your friends and family supportive; decide affirmatively from the very beginning whether or not what you are doing is right – and then don’t quit!  Yup! I just figured out the chapter titles. Cool, huh?  Some of the more controversial tips will include work-outs at train stations, free tuition and textbooks, and how to write a term paper in 90 minutes or less. ‘Nuff said!

NLI: Now...let's discuss your shining accomplishment: your play, Hamlet, Resurrected.  Tell us about you, Hamlet, Shakespeare, and your play.  How did you conceive and create this wonderful play?  I'm guessing you're a reader of Shakespeare's plays and poetry...?

AP: Nuala, when it comes to learning a subject, whether it be via traditional schooling or self-education, I believe in what I call immersion (great, another chapter title). So, soon after signing up for a British Literature class at LATTC, I emailed the instructor, Professor Lisa Moreno (do you know her?) and asked for as many details about the class as possible.

Realize that I was asking her this months in advance. The spring semester hadn’t even ended, and this was for a class taking place in the fall! This teacher could have told me to take a cold shower and chill out until September. But I have found that teachers appreciate a student who shows a little initiative in preparing for their class, and Prof. Moreno was no exception. Still, she only told me two things: the textbook name and that we would be studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Now, at the time, I knew as little about Shakespeare as the average guy raised in L.A. As a poet, Shakespeare and his work was something that I had hoped to get to know “someday”. True, I had seen Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, but that was the end of it. (The only thing further I could add is that I strangely always felt at ease speaking with a British accent – something I jokingly attribute to my great-great-grandfather from England, who I never met; and the fact that I read through the King James version of the Bible each year.)

So there I was, with only one piece of information and full summer ahead of me; and yes, I used this to its fullest. I listened on audiobook and watched on DVD all of William Shakespeare’s popular plays, and many of his more obscure ones. I also watched and listened to endless documentaries on the life and times of Shakespeare. Later, during the actual class, I steeped myself in more video and audio presentations; this time on the history, culture and practices of the medieval and renaissance periods; especially before, during, and after the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the principal monarch during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Yet, Hamlet… I-saw-and-heard-virtually-everything on Hamlet: practically every video record of the play (yes, even the one with Mel Gibson as Hamlet); multiple audiobook versions; and I became a student of an interlinear edition from the library, which laid Shakespeare’s words alongside a modern translation.

In that initial reply email to Prof. Moreno, I had promised that “by the end of the summer I will be Hamlet!”   And I was! And… I didn’t like him, not one bit!

Please understand what I came to see: If someone, anyone living in the less than affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles had caused the deaths of seven people (and probably more) he would be locked up quicker than you can say, “Chappaquiddick.” What further infuriated me was knowing that the elite of over four hundred years had considered this literary character their darling, without ever holding him sufficiently accountable to his deeds. In the end, I spent the next two years despising the character Hamlet, and all that he stood for.

Then your class came, Nuala, and you challenged the other students and me to create a full play or novel. So, I did what I always do when faced with offering such a large portion of my life and talents to a project – I prayed. In the end, I felt deeply moved to show mercy to both the fictional character of Hamlet and to what he stood for. Yes, he must be given a chance to face the world he had flipped upside down; and to face the enigma of the people he had killed. He must be given a chance for redemption, and maybe with him, the elite who so blatantly continue refusing to accept and properly assimilate the lower ends of society: from the African Americans they sterilized and/or hung in the last century to the humble Hispanic immigrants begging for acceptance today. Yea, and so - Mercy to the murderers, redemption to the ruined; Hamlet resurrects and may they never be the same.

NLI: Do you think that someone who has not read and appreciated Shakespeare can appreciate your play?   And...why, in your opinion, do most people seem to know Shakespeare's name, but not to have read his works...?  (And no, I don't know Professor Lisa Moreno, but would like to.)

AP: Shakespeare is intimidating. There’s no way around it. All that old English and all that poetry, and the obvious complexity of what’s being said. Even poets are intimidated; I certainly was! However, the magic of his work is that it, with ease and leisure, stretches the limited modern mind beyond its false limitations. I mean, do we really need scientists to tell us that we are not using the full potential of our minds. Come on! We can feel it. There’s more of us than what actually makes it out to meet the world.

What I have endeavored to do, among other things, in Hamlet Resurrected is to both make this style accessible to the modern mind and will, and to soften it where necessary so as to keep the audience engaged and wanting more.

NLI: A final question, Abel: What are your thoughts about these lines of the tribute Ben Jonson wrote about his contemporary Shakespeare: "For a good Poet's made, as well as borne. /And such wert thou"?  Of course, this last question is somewhat redundant, an embellishment to my second question in #1:  "Who are you, Abel Prudhomme?"  But go ahead and answer it anyway.  Tell us your thoughts: Is an artist "made" and/or "borne"?

AP: Well, who created them? Was it not the ultimate artist that formed us? Are we really the progeny of brute beasts, of dumb monkeys, of amoeba and slime? Or are we in fact the very image, the imprint of not only body but of the mind of God?

If the answer is no, then that doctrine of death, which rears its head again on our campuses, that re-interprets Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest, and that presently, and increasingly calls for the death of the “unfit” to give life to a dying planet; I say if that is all we are, then yes, certainly only those who are born (who “evolve”) into this world with an innate presence of artistic ability can be artists.

But let us be clear. If we are in fact of heavenly stuff, then there is no limitation to what we can do nor to whom we can be; for the image of God is the image of utter freedom and of ability divine.

They told my mother to abort me; that I could not contribute to society. Thank God she didn’t believe them. Neither do I.

Other Works:


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