The Ballad of J. T. Laura

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I never understood why anyone called Laura Albert a fake writer. When she invented J. T. LeRoy, she formed the basis of an enduring emotional and artistic chemistry with a wide variety of readers. Isn't this what a real writer is supposed to do?

Some accused Laura of creating a fake persona, but J. T. LeRoy was never meant to appear real. The cagey identity was part of the character's psychology, and a part of the psychology of the character's milieu. Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy was fake in a fake world -- an uncertain truck stop hustler, a boy dressing as a boy dressing as a girl, who was sometimes asked to dress as a girl dressing as a boy dressing as a girl. J. T. LeRoy "himself" was supposed to be a male writer, but when secret mastermind Laura Albert sent a real person out to schmooze in fashionable parties as J. T. LeRoy, she sent a girl dressed as a boy. Anybody who ever thought J. T. LeRoy was supposed to be "real" was completely missing the point.

Laura Albert has her say about her past scandal and other things in a fun Interview magazine interview with Adam Langer. Laura is a friend of Litkicks, and it just so happens that Adam Langer is a friend of Litkicks too, since his comic novel The Thieves of Manhattan got a great review in these pages a couple years ago. Thieves is an anarchic send-up of literary author scandals, so he was a great choice to ask J. T. Laura questions about her past. As for Interview itself, Andy Warhol's legendary magazine still looks great. This article's photos are by Steven Klein.

LANGER: Do you ever stop to look back at how outraged people were by what you did and think, Wow, that was all kind of ridiculous.

ALBERT: Sure, but mostly I'm moved by the people who keep coming to me. They did a play about me in Brazil, and it was a big hit. I was also brought to Brazil with Alice Walker as the U.S. representatives at their book biennial. I've been a judge at film festivals around the world. I even shot a Korean commercial for a charity fundraiser. France has been phenomenally supportive. Everywhere I go, all sorts of folks come and share the most heart-wrenching stories. I had used JT as asbestos gloves to handle material that I otherwise couldn't touch. Now that the gloves are off and I'm more directly available to people, they feel empowered to make themselves more directly available too.

LANGER: When you look back at everything that happened, are there things you would do differently?

ALBERT: You know what? I was ready. At the time, I was writing for Deadwood, and David Milch was really a wonderful mentor, very protective of me. At the beginning of the season, Milch had asked me how I would like my name to appear in the credits and I said, "JT LeRoy," and he gave me this sad, kind of Eeyore look. And at the end of the season, when the press had broken the story, he asked me again. "How would you like your name to appear?" I said, "Laura Albert." I kind of mumbled it. And he said, "That's what I had hoped." And he gave me the grace to get there. I get e-mails telling me, "I'm gonna create a whole persona. I'm gonna do just what you did." And I'm like, "Good luck!" People ask me, "How did you do it?" Well, the truth is, things get invented by accident or by dysfunction. Or by suffering. You create the way a pearl is created, to alleviate irritation. I never asked myself, "Gee, how do I burst forth onto the literary scene?"

2 Responses to "The Ballad of J. T. Laura"

There is a long tradition of reinventing oneself to achieve goals, for empowerment and frredom, and it is very rock & roll.

People always seem to react with outrage when a story like this comes to light - like the James Frey scandal. I find that type of response to be both confusing and amusing. It's as though the public, the people that get really angry, feel that writers owe them some sort of 'truth' - whatever that may be.

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