Dana Schwartz on Humor, Rejecting the “Guilty Pleasure” Label and Terrible Jews

SMS: For those who don’t know about your many Twitter personas, can you explain the impulse behind creating these fake characters on social media? How did “Guy in Your MFA” begin?

DS: I was a college senior when I started “Guy in Your MFA,” and I felt inert. I was pre-med but I realized I would not be happy as doctor. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I created this account based on people in my classes and also my own worst writer impulses. He’s the embodiment of the masculine fiction writer wannabe who is obsessed with David Foster Wallace and Karl Ove Knausgard and Hemingway. It was gratifying that I got a response. I think people have encountered this person. Or they are this person.

Do you identify your love of humor with being Jewish?

Definitely. My family is a stereotypically Jewish family: very loud, talking competing to make jokes. It comes from being surrounded by people who lovingly make fun of each other.

What made you decide to turn to memoir after doing topical nonfiction and fiction?

It was exactly something I hadn’t done before—it felt fresh in my mind, all of these sort of hurts and angsts. When I sat down to write, all the ideas I had were colored by recent experiences. I felt like might as well face those demons head on in this book. It’s not the type of book I want my parents to read, but I’m really glad I wrote it. I hope young people or people my age and older relate to it, and find it funny and comforting.

Have you gotten any pushback about being a young memoirist?

Yes! I always explain that I didn’t write my memoirs, plural, like I’m some duke somewhere. It’s just essays about my life. Some people accept that.

What inspired you to do the “choose your own adventure”/ “personality quiz” format?

In your early 20s, life is a “choose your own adventure.” Every seemingly minor decision you make has massive ramifications for your career down the line. And every decision regarding relationship is magnified on your heart. The choose your own adventure format was the best way to explore that idea in a meta and interesting way. I was drawn to the personality quiz; it’s my generation’s way of gleaning self-knowledge.  People love to categorize themselves as a way of searching for an identity.

You pushed back recently on the idea of being categorized as a “beach read.”

It’s a little weird for me—it’s a book about eating disorders and BDSM sex. If people are reading it on the beach I’m thrilled! But there is a knee jerk reaction among the publishing community and the press writing about it online, that assumes stories by women are “guilty pleasures” or beach reads, which means less serious than works by their male counterparts. We as a culture need to take a step back and ask ourselves why “guilty pleasure” is a way we write about women’s books—as if women should be ironically ashamed by things that are associated with women.

Talk about your history with Jared Kushner—what gave you the chutzpah to call him out?

I had spent all of that weekend getting horrible anti-Semitic hate, the worst I have ever gotten, in relation to tweeting about Donald Trump. My boyfriend at the time, who wasn’t Jewish, said “Dana you need to calm down.” I showed him some of these threats, people were sending me pictures of lampshades. He said “I don’t understand,” and I said, “No, you don’t you understand!” My rage carried me into the office on Monday. I felt that if I didn’t write about it I would get an ulcer or I would drop dead. I don’t regret it. When you have that impulse that you have something you need to say, say it.

Who is the worst Jew in public life right now?

Does Ivanka count? Definitely Ivanka. Fuck her. Although if we’re doing worst Jews I want to add Harvey Weinstein to that list. The two of them. That’s perfect.