Tuesday, January 10, 2006
January 9, 2006
The Unmasking of JT Leroy: In Public, He's a She
By WARREN ST. JOHN
It has been one of the most bizarre literary mysteries in recent memory: Who, exactly, is the novelist JT Leroy? An answer, at long last, is taking shape.
Mr. Leroy's tale was harrowing in its details and uplifting in its arc. He was a young truck-stop prostitute who had escaped rural West Virginia for the dismal life of a homeless San Francisco drug addict. Rescued as a young teenager by a couple named Laura Albert and Geoffrey Knoop and treated by a psychologist, he was able to turn his terrible youth into a thriving career as a writer. JT Leroy has published three critically acclaimed works of fiction noted for their stark portrayal of child prostitution and drug use.
Along the way Mr. Leroy gained the friendship and trust of celebrities and noted writers, who supported his career financially and offered him emotional support when he declared that he was infected with H.I.V. Sales were good, and his books were published around the world. Shy and reclusive, Mr. Leroy, now 25, appeared in public often disguised beneath a wig and sunglasses.
But the young man in the wig and sunglasses, it turns out, is not a man at all. The public role of JT Leroy is played by Savannah Knoop, Geoffrey Knoop's half sister, who is in her mid-20's...
...But the discovery of the public face of JT Leroy is only part of the mystery. Still unsettled is the question of who writes under that name.
Writers like Dennis Cooper, Mary Gaitskill and Mary Karr were among those who offered support to Mr. Leroy's literary career, as did several prominent editors at Manhattan publishing houses, and numerous film and pop music celebrities offered him emotional support, including Courtney Love, Tatum O'Neal, Billy Corgan, Shirley Manson and Carrie Fisher...
The unmasking of Ms. Knoop adds to a mounting circumstantial case that Laura Albert is the person who writes as JT Leroy. Pressure to admit the ruse has been building on Ms. Albert since October, when New York magazine published an article that advanced a theory that she was the author of JT Leroy's books.
The New York article, written by Stephen Beachy, portrayed Ms. Albert, 40, and Mr. Knoop, 39, as unfulfilled rock musicians who concocted the character of JT Leroy to gain access first to literary circles and, later, to celebrities. The scheme began, Mr. Beachy wrote, with faxes, e-mail messages and phone calls by Ms. Albert, speaking in a West Virginia accent as JT Leroy. The article also described an acquaintance of Ms. Albert's who said she had asked him to type and fax manuscripts that bore striking thematic similarities to work later published by JT Leroy. When that name became famous, Mr. Beachy theorized, an actor was needed to play JT Leroy in person; he did not know, he wrote, who that actor was.
...But perhaps those most affected by the revelation that Ms. Knoop has been playing the public role of JT Leroy are those who went out of their way to help someone they thought was a troubled young man.
"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."
full article is here:
& definitely worth the read...