Interview: @GuyInYourMFA

One successful author once called Master of Fine Arts programs silly things, adding that finding one’s voice was a simple as looking inside one’s throat. This author had not pursued an MFA, possibly due to his preexisting knowledge of the human anatomy.

By James Tate Hill

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One successful author once called Master of Fine Arts programs silly things, adding that finding one’s voice was a simple as looking inside one’s throat. This author had not pursued an MFA, possibly due to his preexisting knowledge of the human anatomy. But what of aspiring scribes unable to name the orifice through which this “throat” might be found? Each year, Poets & Writers magazine dedicates an issue to helping writers decide which, if any, MFA program might be the right fit. Earlier this year, a collection of essays contrasted the experience of graduate school with immersion in the cultural cornucopia of New York City. Yet no one has done more to settle the MFA debate once and for all than the writer known as @GuyInYourMFA. I recently had the privilege of interviewing him about his influences, the state of publishing, what writers wear, and his recommendations for agents and editors who might wish to work with him.


James Tate Hill: First off, because it’s November, how are you commemorating National Novel Writing Month, often referred to as NaNoWriMo?

@GuyInYourMFA: Let me be explicitly clear: I am always writing. Whatever “holidays” the “literary” masses contrive for themselves are of no concern to me. Every month is writing month if you have a muse inside that burns with the burden of every word left uncommitted to paper. But to answer your question, I imagine I’ll be forced to commemorate this month by tolerating the droves of alcoholic housewives who consider themselves great novelists until December 1.

JTH: When did you first know you were a writer?

@GIYMFA: Like any great artist, I always knew I had the muse within me. From the age of four when I was able to recite full Ibsen monologues to the delight of my parents, to the age of eleven when I wrote my first novel-length prose poem, even as a child I was burdened with the need to create and explore the human condition through literature.

JTH: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

@GIYMFA: To this day, Finnegans Wake remains one of my favorite children’s books. I also recall a particularly memorable third grade in which I was so engrossed in The Dubliners that I didn’t realize recess had already begun and the classroom had emptied! And, juvenile as it may be, I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite The Catcher in the Rye as one of my foremost literary inspirations—one of the first books that taught me how powerful it was to explore the controversial challenges facing young men today who are wealthy and white.

JTH: People are always curious what and who you’re reading. Could you describe your most recent visit to a bookstore?

@GIYMFA: Sigh. Bookstores have become so commercial these days with the indomitable drivel of Young Adult novels and pornography parading as appropriate reading for the barely literate housewife. I much prefer old world antique booksellers. On my last trip to New York City, I discovered a delightfully underground shop in the alleyway between a 24-hour bodega and an NYU freshman dorm. I purchased an untranslated Sartre (which I had of course read before but nevertheless wanted to add to my collection).

JTH: I’m going to provide the names of some prominent writers. Describe what you learned from each of them. Let’s begin with Cormac McCarthy.

@GIYMFA: Using quotation marks to denote dialogue is stilted and plebian.

JTH: David Foster Wallace?

@GIYMFA: The quality of the book is inversely proportional to how easy it is to read.

JTH: William Shakespeare?

@GIYMFA: Apparently, that stringing ten syllables into a sentence can make someone incredibly famous.

JTH: Stephen King?

@GIYMFA: Easiest way to manipulate the masses into buying your books is by writing the equivalent of a B-horror movie.

JTH: Gillian Flynn?

@GIYMFA: Second easiest way to manipulate the masses into buying your books is by writing the equivalent of a Dateline special.

JTH: Jane Austen?

@GIYMFA: Young girls seem to like books about finding men to marry. Yawn.

JTH: Your tweets sometimes suggest a complicated relationship with female writers, especially those in your workshop. What are the differences you see between the fiction of women and men?

@GIYMFA: In the interest of protecting myself from the violent hordes of bloodthirsty “feminists” who prowl the Internet, I’ll politely decline to answer.

JTH: Nevertheless, you seem to have a lot of female fans. If you hit it off with one of them after a reading, what could she expect on a date with you?

@GIYMFA: We could go to a local coffee shop and discuss our favorite post-modernist writers over our fair-trade, organically sourced cappuccino. Afterward, I’d take her to a park overlooking the city, where we’d drink whisky from my flask. Maybe if she was lucky, I’d read her some of my poetry for a few hours. Finally, back to the mattress on the floor at my place, where we have unfeeling, regrettable, and mutually unsatisfying sex that I can write about the next day.

JTH: There’s been a lot of discussion in recent months about Literary Citizenship and what writers can do to promote and sustain a strong literary community. What makes you a good literary citizen?

@GIYMFA: Is giving my writing to the world not enough?

JTH: One factor influencing the decision to pursue an MFA is the return on investment relative to future employment. What do you plan to do for money after you finish your degree?

@GIYMFA: Obviously, I assume that within a few months, the larger literary community will recognize me as the one-of-a-kind voice I am and set me up with a lucrative publishing deal. Between books, I’ll live in the woods and in various writer’s colonies. Perhaps I might guest-edit at a prestigious literary journal.

JTH: To those about to enter an MFA program, what clothing would best prepare them for the writing life?

@GIYMFA: All black is the easiest way to let the outside world know that you are a deep soul who is too busy meditating on nihilistic truths to worry about something as unimportant as “color.” Hats and scarves are the optimal way to keep warm in your unheated loft (as are gloves, as long as they’re fingerless so you can still write.) Let others worry about stains, wrinkles, or dirt—you have more important things to think about.

JTH: Clove cigarettes, Cigarillos, or menthols?

@GIYMFA: Hand-rolled herbal cigarettes only. I hear Kurt Vonnegut smoked Pall Malls. Maybe that’s why his work was so stiff in his later years.

JTH: Many young writers preparing to send out their work seek advice from agents and editors, but what advice would a writer of your stature offer agents and editors?

@GIYMFA: Never ask for edits. Art is not just the finished product, but a reflection of the entire process that went into making it. Any “typos,” or inconsistencies are meta-textual statements on the challenges of modern life. If you don’t understand something, it is through no fault of the writer.

JTH: Do you plan to attend or participate in any panels at the AWP conference next year in Minneapolis?

@GIYMFA: If only I were invited. I assume my hard-hitting insights into the literary world don’t appeal to the mindless masses the same way some others (whom I’ll forgo naming) do.

JTH: Lastly, news recently surfaced that Knopf will publish a short story collection from Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks. Each story will be accompanied by a photograph of a typewriter from Hanks’s personal collection. Can you offer an advance blurb for Mr. Hanks’s collection?

@GIYMFA: I offer my sincerest congratulations to Mr. Hanks on his foray into the literary world. Although upon reading his stories I’m sure it will become painfully obvious to us all that his particular gifts are restricted to film acting, I admire his dedication to promoting the criminally undervalued typewriter. Of course, I’ve been using one since before it was en vogue.


@GuyInYourMFA is two rewrites away from finishing the great American novel. Find him on Twitter here, and (maybe?) somewhere in Brooklyn.

James Tate Hill is Fiction and Reviews Editor for Monkeybicycle. His first novel, Academy Gothic, will be published in 2015. Find him on Twitter @JamesTateHill.


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