Living Writers Features Millennial Novel

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Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens.

Lauren Hutton, Maroon-News Staff

With a captivating mix of relatability and profound insight, first-time novelist and Stanford graduate Tony Tulathimutte spoke on September 28 as the third author in this year’s Living Writers Series. His 2016 novel, Private Citizens, follows the lives of four ambitious and deeply flawed millennials as they strive to make lives for themselves in San Francisco post-graduation. New York Magazine called Private Citizens “the first great millennial novel” and it was featured as an Amazon “Best Book of the Month” in 2016.

Tulathimutte has won both a 2017 Whiting Award and a 2008 O. Henry Award for his works and has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and Vice throughout his career. He was introduced to the crowd of students in Love Auditorium by Associate Professor of English Jennifer Brice, who commented on the fact that Tulathimutte may be the first author invited to speak at Colgate who has been carded due to his young age. It is exactly Tulathimutte’s youthful mindset, though, that made him both incredibly likeable in person and strangely mesmerizing in his writing. 

Tulathimutte began by discussing the mindsets of his main characters, who despite their friendships, wanted to “see each other fail, or at the very least succeed after they themselves did.” 

He proceeded to read several extended excerpts from his novel. These readings demonstrated his witty writing style and the cynical nature of each of his characters. The first scene centered around a creative writing class in which the speaker criticizes the clichéd state of her fellow classmates’ works and yearns for something more original. In between lines such as “there were no major writers, only writing majors,” and a sea of literary platitudes, the angst, frustration and self-absorbed ego of many talented and desperate millennials became perfectly clear. 

After reading a second except that further highlighted the cynical nature of hipsters with immense humor and a self-aware tone, Tulathimutte proceeded to read a short story entirely about edible panties. In what was undeniably an incredibly humorous account of one man’s complaints about the advertising techniques used to sell such a product, Tulathimutte showcased just how well his amusing, all-knowing tone could translate to types of literature aside from novels.

With writing that remained both conversational and revealing, there was something inherently captivating about the excerpt. 

“My quarrel is with the generic name, ‘edible panties,’ which leads one to believe that edibility is their chief selling point. It is certainly what distinguishes them from ordinary panties (or, as I suppose you would call them, inedible panties). But you don’t ever call something that’s delicious merely edible. The word edible expresses what is possible, not what is desirable,” Tulathimutte said.

During a question-and-answer period following the reading, students sought explanations for plot choices and insight into the liberties writers can take in their works. While Tulathimutte began the session by commenting that he gave “great dating and cooking advice,” his answers seemed both thought-out and sincere. 

A large theme that persisted throughout the session was the reception the book received. Older individuals view the work as a satire, which Tulathimutte adamantly refuses, instead saying the work is realism with sometimes “grotesque exaggeration.”

“If it were a satire, it would just be a satire of me. I’m definitely not trying to point out some other social class I don’t belong to and say look how dumb they are,” Tulathimutte said. 

He added that people sometimes mistake the portrayal of characters in an unflattering light as satirization.

While Tulathimutte did not want readers to gain any one particular message from his work, he asked one student what she took away from the novel. Her statement about it giving insight into what was potentially to come in her own life and that she read it as “a bit of a warning,” obviously delighted Tulathimutte. 

“So you discovered that life is futile?” Tulathimutte said, before concluding the talk.

Ultimately, Tulathimutte’s time at Colgate was spent talking about the generational shortcomings of millennials that he has witnessed first-hand and the intricacies of symbolic moments in Private Citizens.

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