HUGE scoop by Warren St. John at the NYT! He has unmasked his former interview subject, the myterious and androgynous JT Leroy. Critically acclaimed for his searing prose and tenderly pitied for his brutal past, Leroy has been something of a literary boy wonder – except that it turns out he’s not a boy at all. JT Leroy is twenty-something sometime-model Savanna Knoop. Turns out she’s the half-sister of Geoffrey Knoop, who together with his partner Laura Albert “rescued” young JT from his debased life of drugs and teenage prostitution. Or so the story goes.
That’s how the story went when St. John interviewed Leroy just over a year ago; now, he’s not so sure. He recalls New York writer Stephen Beachy who deduced that Laura Albert was the actual writer and had followed the trail of Leroy’s advance checks to Albert’s family. Meanwhile, Knoop is ID’d as both herself and JT Leroy, by his/her agent, business manager and a producer on a film adapted from his/her book.
Two things strike me as odd about this article. First, how the hell did St. John crack this? All he says is “A photograph of Ms. Knoop at a 2003 opening for a clothing store in San Francisco was discovered online,” using that maddening passive Times voice. How “was” the photo “discovered”? Inquiring minds want to know.
Second: JT Leroy’s agent Ira Silverberg of Donadio & Olson comes across as extremely sympathetic to his client in St. John’s 2004 piece, explaining his client’s awkward hunger for adulation: “I think you can say JT wants that love in a bad way. He was so deprived, and he’s getting it back now.” He is less so now:
To present yourself as a person who is dying of AIDS in a culture which has lost so many writers and voices of great meaning, to take advantage of that sympathy and empathy, is the most unfortunate part of all of this,” Mr. Silverberg said. “A lot of people believed they were supporting not only a good and innovative and adventurous voice, but that we were supporting a person.”
Is it just me, or does it seem significant for Silverberg to criticize his client for the fraud in print? True, the fraud is pretty massive, more than just sex and gender but to lies and arguably fraud, considering the money that changed hands based on the assumed veracity of his/her story. Even so, does it not breach some agent/client standard? Unless, of course, they are no longer agent and client…I don’t know but GalleyCat is looking ito it. Will update shortly.
Update: Ron Hogan at GalleyCat spoke to Silverberg, who said that “playing the AIDS card to elicit support, money, connections” was “morally reprehensible.” Silverberg did, however, stand behind Leroy’s work. No word on how the agent/client relationship is going to play out; Silverberg had not spoken with anyone on the West Coast at the time of Hogan’s interview.
A Literary Life Born of Brutality [NYT]