In case you are unfamiliar, here is a high level, crash course in JT LeRoy: His back story was one of a gender-fucked prostitute who travelled from West Virginia to San Francisco. In time, he amassed a clique of celebrity fans. His 2001 novel “Sarah” (and its follow‐up “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” – a collection of short stories) is at times disturbing, at times wonderful, but always extraordinarily excellent fiction. To me, “Sarah” reads like a fabulous trailer trash / truck stop fairy tale through a punk rock lens: jarring and exhilarating.
In 2005, The New York Times ran an article exposing JT’s “true” identity. The person whom had been appearing in public was a woman named Savannah Knoop. The actual author of the books was her sister-in‐law: a woman named Laura Albert. The result of this exposé was cries of “hoax” and “scam”.
So I pose this question: These works of fiction are now no longer valid because the person who wrote them isn’t who we thought it was?
I’ve never been to Oz.
I’ve never been Through the Looking Glass.
I’ve never been to West Virginia.
…and I’ve never cared whether or not the respective fiction authors I reference have been there
To further clarify and differentiate, this is NOT the James Frey / Oprah scandal: these books were never published as memoirs; always as fictions. I understood that from the beginning. Didn’t everyone else?
Stephen King had Richard Bachman. Anne Rice had A.N. Roquelaure. David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust. Why can’t Laura Albert have JT LeRoy? She found her voice by creating her mask / veil / avatar / nom de plume and writing through him…AS him. Take J.K. Rowling, run her through a couple backwoods punk wash‐and‐rinse cycles in a truck stop laundromat, let her hang dry in the back of your sleeper cab while cranking some southern fried rock, then have her write Harry Potter in the first person. The public demanded JT be fully realized, so Laura Albert brought her Harry Potter, her Vampire Lestat, her Ziggy Stardust to life. By doing so, she challenged the status quo of novel writing. Personally I think that’s pretty damn cool.
This wasn’t some grand pre meditated plan executed by a Svengali looking to swindle anyone. There wasn’t an exit strategy or a Plan B. There is real pain behind this work. One day Laura Albert may choose to tell us her story. Until then, none of us are entitled to the “real” story of any creator of any work of art. By crying “hoax”, the media, celebrities, and the public admit they let their crush on JT LeRoy *himself* eclipse his work. I’d say that’s cause for self‐examination, not for vilifying Laura Albert.
Believe me, I understand. We’re Americans. We believe in survivors. We WANT to believe this angelic‐in‐appearance, devilish‐in‐demeanor Appalachian Oliver Twist could overcome insurmountable hardship and end up in the lap of luxury, surrounded by adoring celebrity fans…and all by the ripe old age of 25. Unfortunately, many of his admirers let the printed work take a back seat.
I highly recommend a re‐visitation of these books. For a truly eloquent dissertation on Laura Albert’s work as JT LeRoy, I recommend reading “The Importance of Being JT LeRoy” by Nicole V. Gagné. Early next year, The Authors’ Guild plans to release the “Definitive Cherry Edition” of “Sarah” as an eBook. Visit www.jtleroy.com for release info.
Gene Dante is a songwriter, actor, entertainer, loudmouth, bull in a china shop, and should probably be your boyfriend. He often performs with his band, The Future Starlets. He recently appeared in Taylor Mac’s THE LILY’S REVENGE at American Repertory Theater. This holiday season, he’ll appear with the Gold Dust Orphans in RUDOLPH THE RED‐NECKED REINDEER. www.genedante.com
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