Deborah Williams

Writer and Professor

United Arab Emirates

Veteran New Yorker now living in Abu Dhabi (which is not Dubai); novelist, literary critic, literature professor at NYU Abu Dhabi and former columnist for The National, the English-language newspaper of the UAE. Writes about culture, art, books, family, the perils of parenthood, feminism, travel, teaching and learning. Loves essays, historical fiction, and semi-colons. Co-editor of the Oxford History of the Novel in English Volume Eight: US Literature From 1940. Works in progress: "The Corset and the Veil," a novel based on the extraordinary life of Lady Hester Stanhope; and "Children's Literature and the Post-National Imagination," which explores how YA literature written "after the American century," to use Brian Edwards' term, is moving to a post-national view of the world.


Selected Essays

The Paris Review
Staging Octavia Butler in Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel, opened in November after years of delay and a cost rumored to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The same weekend as LAD's grand opening, the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center hosted the world premiere of Parable of the Sower, an opera composed by the singer/songwriter Toshi Reagon, a queer Brooklyn-based activist, and based on the prophetic novel by Octavia Butler.

What Would Hannah Gadsby Do?

What Would Hannah Gadsby Do? You can keep your Jesus bracelets with their WWJD reminders. I'm getting a bracelet that asks WWHGD: What Would Hannah Gadsby Do? Ever since I watched Nanette, her one-hour comedy show that everyone you know is probably telling you to watch (they're right; you should), I haven't been able to get Hannah out of my mind.

Finding a "teachable moment" in the Kavanaugh hearings

By Deborah Lindsay Williams @mannahattamamma My son is seventeen. He regularly goes to parties where there are girls and lots of booze, and he doesn't keep a calendar, unless you call "writing things on my hand so I don't forget" a calendar.

Video games are helping teens connect with friends right now

By Deborah Williams @mannahattamamma The screams echo out of my son's room: Look out! Get that guy! No, no, on the LEFT, shoot him, oh my god you missed, you loser, how did you not GET him? You're useless-wait, now! SHOOT NOW! His bellowing warms my heart.

Scary Mommy
When It Comes To Raising My Sons, I Constantly Wonder, 'Have I Done Enough?'

My boys are 18 and 15-their silky baby cheeks have long since vanished in whiffs of aftershave and occasional razor stubble and when they hug me, I can feel the muscles bunching across their shoulders. I think to myself, "they're good boys," but then like a malevolent ghost the thought floats in: what if I'm wrong?

Teaching a class of students from myriad countries and backgrounds (essay)

"Is that what really happened?" The student who asks me this question is not being disingenuous. We are in a literature class that is part of New York University Abu Dhabi's core curriculum, and he is pointing to pictures in Art Spiegelman's book Maus that show starving Auschwitz prisoners being beaten by Nazi guards.

Selected Academic Essays

Selected Columns from The National (2013-2018)

The National
The female adventurer who disproved Virginia Woolf's theory

I'm an antiquities geek. I love archival research, looking at letters and manuscripts from bygone centuries; I get a thrill from walking up an ancient staircase and seeing the grooves in the stone created by the thousands, maybe millions, of feet that have preceded mine.

The National
The unsettling beauty of the Markazi exhibition and the questions it prompts

I went to Louvre Abu Dhabi earlier this month and because I'm a member I didn't have to wait in line. But I was delighted by the fact that there was a line, perhaps because I am a recovering New Yorker for whom "waiting in line" is a quasi-perpetual occupation, as is the discussion about whether one waits "on" line or "in" line.

The National
NYUAD professor Deborah Quinn's real-life adventures in self-publishing

"This is a terrific read, filled with plot twists, history, humour and romance..." "A great book for teenage girls ..." The handful of readers who have taken the time to fill out a customer review on Amazon's website are well-disposed towards The Time Locket, a self-published novel [] by Deborah Quinn.

The National
There are some occasions when development doesn't feel like advancement

Deborah Lindsay Williams finds resonance in a Joni Mitchell lyric from the 1970s On a beautiful afternoon last week, I had a momentary bout of fitness, so I loaded my inflatable stand-up paddle-board into the car and drove to a spot along the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Street where there was a launch spot into the mangroves.

The National
Getting lost in Abu Dhabi's ceaseless evolution

The other night I got lost on Al Maryah island. True, it's not a very big island, and true, you'd think that on an island you could just head to the water and then get your bearings, but it's impossible to get to the water's edge unless you're on foot, and I was in a car, with a google map that looked like a lace-making pattern rather than roadway directions.

The National
In uncertain times, what could be more comforting than the certainty of bread?

I pull a perfectly crusty boule from my oven. The kitchen smells so good that my children, who are 15 and 19, shuffle out of their rooms, eyes bleary from online learning and video chatting with college friends scattered around the world. The three of us look down at the Instagram-ready loaf.

The National
Everyone speaks Ikeanese, but who's fluent in Assembly?

Heading into my third year as an Abu Dhabi resident, I have learnt what may be the only truly global language: Ikeanese. I now converse fluently in the language of Hemnes, Ektorp, and Billy; I can make myself understood in Expedit and Solsta.

The National
Do they mean us? Travel tips don't reflect who we are

Sometimes travel tips don't reflect the reality of a country or a culture, argues Deborah Williams The other day I was asked to talk to an American freelance reporter who was working on an article about travel tips for women visiting the Emirates.

Selected Book Reviews

The National
Death is everywhere

Donna Tartt's novel about a 13-year-old boy who survives a museum bombing and embarks on a complex journey tries to be too many things - thriller, love story, coming-of-age tale - and loses focus as a result, writes Deborah Lindsay Williams

The National
Arcadia: The human wreckage of a failed hippie commune

Arcadia, Lauren Groff's second novel, is a bit like the hippie commune at its centre: sprawling, chaotic, wildly optimistic in its scope, seemingly headed for sentimental failure, until - unexpectedly - it works.

The National
Novel about English saint reveals a seer and a sage

If ever you think about saints, how do you see them? Static figures with arms piously outstretched, perhaps, or maybe suffering tortures in the name of their faith? Reading , Nicola Griffith's painstakingly researched novel about the early life of St Hilda, will give you a very different picture.