Community Reading: The Great Gatsby and Gatz

Community Reading: The Great Gatsby and Gatz


The Great Gatsby and Gatz

Electra Street Editorial Staff

September 2018

“Forget great,” writes Maureen Corrigan in So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures (2014). “The Great Gatsby is the greatest—even if you didn’t think so when you had to read it in high school.” 

For Corrigan, “Gatsby’s magic emanates not only from its powerhouse poetic style—in which ordinary American language becomes unearthly—but from the authority with which it nails who we want to be as Americans. Not who we are; who we want to be. It’s that wanting that runs through every page of Gatsby, making it our Greatest American Novel.”

At the recent Community Reading event held at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and co-sponsored by the Gallery, Electra Street, and the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi, it became clear that the novel resonated deeply not just for Americans, but also for readers from around the world—and, in fact, had a particular resonance for readers who had come to Abu Dhabi from somewhere else, not unlike Gatsby, Nick, Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle coming East in the novel.

NYUAD Literature professor Cyrus Patell asked whether the real love story at the heart of the novel might not be Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy, but rather Nick’s infatuation with Gatsby, who emerges as “great,” after all, only because Nick’s narrative portrays him that way. Novelist Siobhan Fallon noted that each of the several times that she read the book, it changed for her, with different elements coming to the fore depending on whether she was a teenager, a college student, or a mature, practicing writer. Novelist and journalist Miguel Syjuco recounted how the novel moved him as an aspiring young writer in the Philippines, giving him insight into the privileged milieu in which he had been raised. NYUAD Literature and Creative Writing student Ayah Rashid noted that both the movie and the 2013 film adaptation directed by Baz Luhrmann brought alive the excesses of the Jazz Age, while offering us ways of thinking about the ways of life we experience in Abu Dhabi today. And NYUAD Literature professor Deborah Williams, who served as moderator, described the book as a novel of the Emirates, because it is a novel about self-reinvention and mobility, in which the major characters have all come to New York’s “East Egg” and “West Egg” from somewhere else. The wide-ranging conversation that ensued touched on the “universal” aspects of the novel and the ways in which Fitzgerald draws on old literary forms like epic and tragedy, as well as the ways in which The Great Gatsby (and its re-presentation in the form of the Elevator Repair Service’s theatrical piece Gatz) resonates with the current #MeToo moment in the United States.

We’d like to keep the conversation going, here on line, and we invite Electra Street readers who have read the novel, seen one of the film adaptations, or attended a production of Gatz here in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere in the world, to leave a comment below.

What is it about Gatsby’s story, as told in novel, film, or stage production, that resonates with you? What did you see in it that you’d like others to see?

To prime the pump, we invite you to look at one of these pieces:

  • Electra Street editor Deborah Williams’s 2016 column on the novel from the pages of The National.
  • Electra Street managing editor Chiran Pandey’s discussion of the ways in which Gatz offers up a model of literature as a deeply communal experience.


Global Shakespeare: The 401st and Beyond

Global Shakespeare: The 401st and Beyond

Global Shakespeare after the Quatercentenary

The 401st and Beyond

April 2017

More than 400 years after his death, Shakespeare’s writing continues to inspire (and sometimes antagonize) readers, audiences, writers, actors, and directors around the world. Join us for two events designed to help us meditate on the ways in which Shakespeare has become a part of global cultural heritage.

On Friday, April 7, we will be showing all 37 of the Globe Theatre’s short films, one for each play in the canon, created for last year’s Quatercentenary celebrations (11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Building A6). Click here for more information about the original film project as it was staged last April on London’s South Bank; the Globe page includes trailers that will give you a sense of what the films are like.

On Saturday, April 8, the program “The 401st and Beyond: Global Shakespeare after the Quatercentenary” presents two roundtable discussions featuring scholars and directors from Ashoka University (Delhi), Cairo University, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), NYU, and NYUAD, as well as a reading of MisCast, a one-act comedy written by NYUAD students and inspired by Shakespeare’s lost play Cardenio and Stephen Greenblatt’s “Cardenio Project.”

Lunch will follow the “401st” program, accompanied by a selection of Globe films chosen via an online poll. (Click here to answer the poll. You’ll be taken to a separate window; neither your email address nor IP address will be recorded,)

You can download a PDF from the Globe Theatre describing  the films and listing cast members and directors here.

UPDATE: Download the schedule of films that will be shown on April 7 here.


Ready, Set, Write!

Ready, Set, Write!



In support of the UAE’s Year of Reading, the NYUAD Literature and Creative Writing Program has teamed up with Tempo Magazine to co-sponsor a Flash Fiction Contest. The deadline for submissions is 1 April 2016.

“Flash fiction” is a unique genre of storytelling that happens quickly – in a flash. It is a very short, imagined story that instills a sense of surprise, or tension, or mystery, or drama, or all of these and then. . . it’s over. But if it’s well written and conceived, it will stay with readers like a distinct smell or taste: it will haunt them. Flash fiction can have a beginning, middle and end like a traditional short story, or it can drop us right in the midst of a scene, with characters talking and doing things in a way that immediately gets our attention and leaves us satisfied in the end. Perhaps the writer will take us somewhere unusual and unexpected. If it’s done artfully, we will be touched in some way, perhaps even transformed.

The Rules

  • Writers must be currently enrolled in an accredited undergraduate university program in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
  • Stories must be written in English and make a connection to the idea of SEPARATION.
  • Stories will be judged on originality and the quality of the prose.
  • The maximum length is 750 words (not including the title and author’s information required below). Any submissions over 750 words will not be considered.
  • Submissions should be written in 12-point Times New Roman font.
  • A cover page must accompany each submission and should include the title of the story, the writer’s name, address, e-mail address, phone number and the name of his/her university. These items do not count toward the story’s length limit.
  • Submissions should take the form of a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx) attached to an email sent to flashfictionNYUAD@com  with “Flash Fiction” in the subject line.
  • The deadline for submissions is 23hrs 59minutes on the 1st of April. Anything received after then will not be considered.

You can download a flyer here. Spread the word.

Good luck and write well!

Flash Fiction is sponsored by Tempo Magazine and by NYUAD’s Literature and Creative Writing Program



[EDITORS’ NOTE: If you missed our screenings of Ellis on the NYUAD campus or would like to see it again, you can download a copy for free from iTunes.]

The short film Ellis directed by the artist JR and starring Robert De Niro pays homage to all of the immigrants who entered the United States by passing through the immigration station at Ellis Island outside New York City.

Ellis Island is the stuff of American history and mythology. From 1892 to 1954, it was the threshold through which millions of would-be immigrants were required to pass in order to realize their American. Located in Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty, it was the busiest immigrant inspection station in the United States, and in its peak years — between 1905 and 1914 — an average of 5,000 immigrants per day were processed by immigration officials on the island.

If you were lucky, you spent just a few hours at the island, before receiving permission to proceed to the mainland. You would have had to answer twenty-nine questions, including your name, your occupation, and how much money you were carrying. (You generally needed around $20 to gain approval — about $430 in today’s money —  because the US government wanted new immigrants to have funds to support themselves as they tried to start their new lives.)

Some never made it past that threshold, turned away because they had contagious disease, or criminal records, or seemed to be insane. Some of those who seemed to be sick were sent to the island’s hospital facilities. Many stayed there for quite a while. Some died there.

Today Ellis Island is a museum, but the hospital facilities are still abandoned and in disrepair. The visual artist JR recently mounted an exhibition of contemporary photographies pasted onto the walls of the abandoned building. “Walking around the abandoned hospital on Ellis Island, I could feel the presence of the hundreds of thousands of people who passed through, and of the countless ones who didn’t make it and got turned back.” The exhibition and the short film that it inspired are the artist’s attempt to “to find the story behind each person who left his or her country. I want to know what made them leave everything and everyone behind, even when they knew they’d never be able to come back. It takes so much courage.”

ELLIS – trailer from SOCIAL ANIMALS on Vimeo.


This moving short film looks back to the American past but prompts us to think about todays refugee and migrant crises around the world. As JR puts it, “There were immigrants in Ellis a hundred years ago, there are migrants now, and there will be some in a hundred years, so we have to do what we can to try to relate to each individual story.”

[If you’ve seen the film and have thoughts about it, please share them in the comments section below.]

Talking About Life of Pi

Talking About Life of Pi



“I have a story that will make you believe in God,” an elderly man promises to the fictional narrator of Yann Martel’s fantasy adventure novel Life of Pi.

So begins the story of Pi, who survives being stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days with a Bengal tiger as his only companion. This passage also began “Abu Dhabi Reads,” the inaugural communal reading event sponsored by Electra Street.

On November 1, the NYU Abu Dhabi campus transformed for the evening into a reader’s paradise as more than seventy members of the Abu Dhabi community congregated to discuss Martel’s Life of Pi.

It was a beautiful night under the soft haze of the campus lights and the setting sun, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The five people chosen to start the conversation – of whom I was one – read passages from the novel that they had found particularly provocative, and then posed questions for the rest of the group about everything from whether religion is a cage and whether the story really makes us believe in God, to the importance of re-reading a text and the meaning of the novel’s surprisingly complex ending.

With these initial comments to mull over, the next hour and a half belonged to the audience, who shared their own thoughts and responded to others’ observations on the novel. Looking out at the audience that night, many of whom were holding copies of Life of Pi in their hands, I felt closer to my fellow bookworms in Abu Dhabi than I ever had before. It was as if we were all afloat on the lifeboat of the novel, sharing our experiences as we rowed to shore.

I am what you could call a veteran of community book reads. The California town where I grew up hosted a similar event every year, and every year I would diligently read the book. Annotated book in hand, I and others like me would flock to the local town hall to discuss and dissect together. If anything, those discussions taught me that reading is much more than a private experience between the reader and the book. Reading can in fact be equally rewarding and stimulating when it is shared and discussed among people – part of the power behind “one book, one community” initiatives like “Abu Dhabi Reads”. (You can read more about community book projects at the United States’ Library of Congress page here.)

These thought-provoking discussions that I now believe made me love reading in the first place came to mind again at “Abu Dhabi Reads,” as I listened to the audience members on the lifeboat with me engage the text and one another in discussion. Many loved the book, some hated it, and a handful confided in me that they had not yet read it. Still, everyone in attendance loved reading for the sake of reading, a fact that became clear evident in the discussion. After all, only book-lovers could begin a conversation with the symbolic role of cages in the text and somehow end up debating, “What is truth?”

At the same time, as much as I was reminded of my experiences from past community book reads, “Abu Dhabi Reads” was uniquely the product of Abu Dhabi. When we heard the call to prayer, we paused in the discussion for a few moments, and some members of the audience took the opportunity to pray while others reflected on the discussion. In that moment I was struck by the diversity of the audience, which included both students and faculty, expats and Emiratis, English and non-English speakers. That brief pause in the discussion captured the spirit of “Abu Dhabi Reads:” this eclectic group from all corners of Abu Dhabi had banded together to celebrate reading.

After the fictional narrator is told that Pi’s story will make him believe in God, he says, “That’s a tall order.” Without skipping a beat, the elderly man lobs back, “Not so tall you can’t reach.” Building a community around book-reading no matter where you are can sometimes feel like a tall order. But if the first “Abu Dhabi Reads” is any indication, it’s not such a tall order for Abu Dhabi.

For those who missed the inaugural “Abu Dhabi Reads,” never fear. This event may have been the first, but it will certainly not be the last. If you are interested in joining our reading community, Electra Street welcomes any suggestions of books for the next “Abu Dhabi Reads,” set to take place in spring. Please post suggestions to the comments section of this post or send an e-mail to


Life of Pi: Food for Thought


Electra Street encourages those of you who are reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi as part of the “Abu Dhabi Reads” program to share your thoughts and questions with the rest of us. Please leave a question or a thought about the book below.

But … no spoilers please! Don’t reveal how the book turns out in consideration of your fellow readers who haven’t quite finished it yet.

Commenters will be entered in a drawing to win passes for two to the movies. You can use them to see Life of Pi when it opens later this fall (21 November in the USA, 20 December worldwide).

[Image by Yzabelle Wuthrich]