AJ Odasso ’05, teacher and poet, has stepped in a new direction with their first novel. The Pursued and the Pursuing picks up right where The Great Gatsby leaves off, but with a second chance for Nick and Gatsby as a couple.
What was your experience reading The Great Gatsby for the first time? Did you ever expect you would write your own spinoff?
I read it for the first time in ninth grade English class. Nick caught me right away. I think I sort of recognized a kindred spirit. I’m always that person that’s watching everybody else. And I feel like I end up being swept into situations that are so far out of my depth. I connected with Nick as the narrator first, I think, and so his loss when Gatsby died was so palpable to me. I liked Nick a lot, I could tell that he was growing to love Gatsby, and it just hurt. The ending hurt. The situation now is that I feel like, largely owing to queer readings of the book, young people are connecting with it again, which is really exciting. I’ve always liked to fix stories. So maybe the second time I read it in school, I had an inkling that maybe one day I would try to do something with it, that I would try to fix that ending. And that did come true eventually.
It’s a great time to write a story with a happy ending.
When we study this book in school, from our teenage years, we’re taught that this story of downfall and ruin is what makes this book great, and it wouldn’t be what it is without the way it spins out and ends, right? But people are actually so starved just for once to see something they love be transformed into a happy story. And especially the queer community. We need happy endings more than ever. Especially for trans and intersex people as well—that is a part of myself and my life experience that I was able to work in.
What advice would you give to others who might be looking to disrupt the cis, straight, white, male literary canon?
Be brave. Take ownership. If you love a story and don’t see enough of yourself and your community in it, be brave and transform it. Even if it’s not in the public domain, there are platforms out there—blogs, transformative work platforms like AO3. There are places where you can take ownership of stories, and you can write them the way you would like to write them. Whether it ends up seeing formal publication or if it just ends up being self-published online, the sky is the limit.
Ramsdell, the student assistant for Wellesley magazine, is an English and creative writing major, and a photographer.