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Deborah Williams

Writer and Professor

Location icon 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. Works in progress: "The Corset and the Veil," a novel based on the extraordinary life of Lady Hester Stanhope; and "The Worlding of US Children's Literature," 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.

Portfolio

Selected Essays

Better After 50
09/02/2019
Learning That Anything Is Possible (At Fifty-five)

I'm fifty-five. It's a number that is elegant in its doubleness, its mirrored simplicity. I am half-way to ten, eleven times. I am also half-way to sixty, which seems impossible and yet it is mathematically inevitable, no matter if I spend twice my age on skin cream.

Nytimes
01/23/2017
Opinion | Discovering Feminist Students in the Middle East

On Campus ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - "My grandmother told me that the man is the head and the woman is the neck," said an East European student in my class. "It makes me so mad. I don't want to be the neck."

The Paris Review
01/08/2018
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.

The Rumpus.net
08/06/2018
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.

Motherwellmag
09/26/2018
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.

Insidehighered
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
04/14/2016
I'm sad to say that my homeland is no longer safe

When I told friends about our family's impending move to Abu Dhabi, the first question anyone asked me is whether or not I would have to "cover". They'd say: "Will you have to ..." and then wave their hands around their heads, as if to indicate a beekeeper's helmet or a halo.

The National
02/17/2018
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
05/24/2014
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 [ Amazon.com] by Deborah Quinn.

The National
03/12/2018
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
04/28/2018
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
10/26/2017
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
07/07/2012
How do you enforce a law against bad taste in clothing?

Last summer, before we moved to Abu Dhabi, we went to France for almost two weeks, including a week in Paris. I spent hours before we left New York agonising about my wardrobe. What could I wear strolling down the Champs-Elysées that wouldn't brand me as a tourist or, worse, an American?

The National
10/10/2013
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
03/26/2015
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
10/24/2013
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
06/24/2012
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
01/02/2014
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.

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