If the brilliance of @GuyinyourMFA was immediately apparent, its longevity was hardly certain. When I first discovered it last Fall, my assumption was that—like erstwhile Tumblr Life in Publishing or the awkward romance between the Twitter feeds of Harper Perennial and Melville House—it was the creation of bored publicists in one of the New York publishing houses and that, like those, it would gain some quick attention before slowly fading from view. @GuyinyourMFA manages to skewer every aspect of literary culture, from its constant hand-wringing over the line between high and low art to its obsession with New York, but @GuyinyourMFA isn’t an insular concern.
“Of course I’ve read The Corrections,” writes Guy. “Let’s just say I would have made a few corrections.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the human behind @GuyinyourMFA isn’t a guy, but nor is she a bored publishing assistant or even an MFA candidate. She is, in point of fact, a senior at Brown named Dana Schwartz.
On a cold day in February, I wade through the slush on the streets of Providence’s College Hill to a coffee shop on Thayer Street, where I find Schwartz crouched behind her laptop. This, I’ve been told, is her usual haunt. When I ask how much time she has, she says, “All day,” implying that I’m doing her a favor by supplying a valid excuse to put off homework.
Over the course of an hour, I discover that, though she’s determined to become a writer, this was not Plan A. Until recently, she was on a premed track but decided to shift gears after landing an internship in Los Angeles for TBS’s Conan. “It was finally a round peg/round hole situation,” she says.
In California, she found her calling. It wasn’t, however, without disappointments. In her months on staff, she saw almost no skits featuring female performers. At the end of the summer, during her debriefing, she asked one of the writers why. In comedy writing, he told her, you always want the simplest route to a punch line, so you want your characters to be as normal as possible. To most audience members, a normal person is prototypically male.
Indeed, part of what makes @GuyinyourMFA so compelling, is that you could find him anywhere. He could be some guy in your writing workshop, but he could just as well be any over-confident boor at a bar, certain that you’re eager to hear his new and groundbreaking opinions. Take, for example, this ungrammatical nugget:
It’s a voice so recognizable that just a few months after its inception, the account now has over 47 thousand followers.
It’s apparent from @GuyinyourMFA that Schwartz took the advice of her exit interview to heart, but as she relates the story, it’s equally clear that she finds this answer unsatisfying. She’s very concerned with social justice. “I’m obsessed with Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” she tells me when I ask her about her dream job. “I’m really interested in the power of humor to enlighten people and bring important issues to people’s attention.”
Not that she hasn’t had her doubts. “Back when I was on the premed track I could rest easy knowing that I was going to go off and do good in the world,” Schwartz says. “Wanting to be a writer, go to Hollywood and work in movies and TV, seems really self-indulgent. I’ve had to find a way to convince myself that I can still do good with those tools.”
Schwartz is as nervous as she is ambitious. A few days earlier, she started a new Twitter feed called @DystopianYA. When I tipped off to it, it had just 15 followers. By the next morning, there were 1,500, and it now has almost 30 thousand subscribers.
“If you’d have told me a year ago that I’d have to turn down agents, I would have laughed uproariously.” Having publishers come calling was a surreal experience, she tells me. “Before I had an agent, they said, ‘Oh, we love this account. Do you have representation?’ and I just wanted to shake them and say, ‘I’m a child—of course I don’t. I haven’t done laundry in three weeks!’”
Schwartz and I have talked a lot about Jonathan Franzen, and toward the end of our time, I ask if she thinks Franzen is the writing world’s Kanye West. “This is going to be a controversial opinion,” she tells me, “but I think Kanye’s more likeable.”
Then after a pause, she says, “That’s a tweet. You should send that out.”
– Matt Tanner is Interviews Editor at The Rumpus and Art Director at Fiction Advocate.