Author Don Hannah explores deathbed dreams

Local writer Don Hannah is doing a reading at Dalhousie today from his newest novel "Ragged Islands", about a woman's dream trips on her deathbed

Author Don Hannah will read from his newest novel

Author Don Hannah will read from his newest novel "Ragged Islands" today at Dalhousie. (Photo: Don Hannah)

The question of what happens to the soul when the body is on the brink of death has intrigued award-winning author and playwright Don Hannah for years.

Hannah, a native of Shediac, N.B., has sat next to the deathbed of two people very close to him—his mother, who died of cancer and heart failure, and his friend, who died of AIDS.

“I remember sitting there and being aware, in both cases, that their body was present, but that the mind was moving somewhere else,” says Hannah.

The author provides a conceptual answer to the unanswerable question in his latest novel, "Ragged Islands", winner of the 2008 Thomas Head Raddall Fiction Award. He will be reading from the novel this afternoon at the Killam Library.

"Ragged Islands" is a novel about 85-year-old Susan Ann Roberts who, while on her deathbed, makes two dream trips home from Toronto to the Maritimes, as she slips in and out of consciousness.

“It was just an interesting way to look at a life,” says Hannah. “I wanted to take an interesting life of somebody who wasn’t rich, famous or glamorous and make that life big and mythic.”

Hannah has written extensively for the theatre. There is a Land of Pure Delight, which he both wrote and directed, is on stage in Sackville, N.B. Other recent work includes a play entitled While We’re Young, which Hannah wrote while he was writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta.

Hannah’s plays have won many awards—The Wooden Hill won the AT&T OnStage Award, and The Wedding Script won the Chalmers Award. Hannah has also authored another novel, "The Wise and Foolish Virgins."

“The subject matter kind of dictates what the form is going to be,” says Hannah about whether he prefers to write plays or novels. “I just enjoy writing. I can’t pick a favourite.”

Although the subject matter of "Ragged Islands" is an emotionally taxing one, Hannah says that he didn’t remain in a dark emotional space for the duration of the writing.

“It was no more emotional than anything else I write,” he says. “You can’t write from inside that sort of emotion constantly. It’s a matter of finding it and trying to sustain it. I mean, with "Ragged Islands", I think we know from page one the main character is going to die so it’s more of a matter of keeping that interesting.”

Today’s reading is at 4 p.m. in the Dalhousie University Archives and Special Collections Reading Room on the fifth floor of the Killam Library. It’s open to the public.

“I like doing readings,” says Hannah. “I think it comes from my theatre background. I’m always amazed that people want to come. One of the things that’s satisfying about theatre is that you get to share your work. With fiction, you don’t, you’re not there, so there is something satisfying about doing readings.”

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