Tony Tulathimutte is one of the sharpest fiction writers working today. His debut novel, Private Citizens, is merciless—if also very funny—in its treatment of four Stanford grads living in San Francisco in the late aughts, fat with privilege but starved of sense. Called the millennial “great American novel,” it was also praised recently by Jonathan Franzen, who called Tulathimutte “a big talent.” It’s not hard to agree.
How did you become the writer you are?
Sixteen years of writing workshops, evenly divided between validation-seeking and then hard backpedaling, reading a couple books a week, guilt, spite, fear, loneliness, two decades of internet porn, caffeine, nicotine, Adderall, supportive parents, cool friends.
What are you working on now? What is at stake?
Four books, three unpublishable ones. I admire writers who are willing to ball up their carefully assembled prestige and brand equity and fan expectations and slam-dunk them in the garbage, so that’s where I’m headed. Gladly to the dumpster.
What is your proudest achievement? Your greatest challenge?
My last book, and finishing it without dying completely.
What do you hope changes or improves in your field?
Without telling anyone in particular how to write, I would like if books in general were funnier, and less concerned with respectability, relatability, status, relevance, and really tightwad ideas of merit, which you could say boil down to “importance” and “interestingness.” Maybe some writers could stop pretending that grappling with political issues in their work is any substitute for direct action (not that we have to choose). Publishers will never stop paying out seven-figure advances for their anointed book of the season, but that shit is preposterous. I’d love a model of publishing where writers were employees with modest, steady salaries and benefits. Do I have any more wishes left?
What does Brooklyn mean to you?
Brooklyn is a brunch spot with a DJ and a few stubborn, meddlesome pockets of culture.
Who would you nominate for this list?
Jenny Zhang, who, with 50x more Twitter followers, is measurably more influential than me.
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.