Jan 29, 2021
Twenty years ago San Francisco author Laura Albert began to write novels using the literary persona JT Leroy. JT was a West Virginian transvestite prostitute, who applied his trade in and around Appalachian truck stops. At thirteen he was a junkie and a cutter. By nineteen, he had moved to San Francisco and started to write.
JT's identity came from Laura's own need to create a persona through which she would able to confront and write about the sexual and physical abuse, she herself had experienced as a girl.
In 2000, Laura as JT LeRoy published the novel, Sarah. The book was a sensation. The New York Times Book Review called the book "deft and imaginative". Success meant that there was a massive audience that wanted to meet JT. Laura met this demand as it she puts it "for Harry Potter to come alive" by recruiting her then sister-in-law to play the part of JT. Laura adopted a Cockney accent and played the role of JT's agent and assistant.
Laura's ruse transformed JT Leroy from noted novelist to an A list celebrity. Hollywood came calling. Actress Asia Argento bought the rights to the LeRoy novel The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and made the book into a film.
In 2006, the inevitable happened, JT Leroy was accused of being a hoax. The New York Times published the article Unmasking of JT LeRoy: In Public, He's a She. The article fueled by misguided anger framed Laura's work as a con and avoided any meditation on the reasons why Laura did what she did. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the media followed suit and piled onto the JT Leroy as greatest literary hoax theme and in doing so, missed the opportunity to dig deeper into the role of identity in art and the sheer inventiveness of what Laura had done.
Overtime the media frenzy disappeared, but the global audience for the JT Leroy books did not. Fans of the books continue to be moved and respond to the stories because of what Laura calls "the felt authenticity" in the work. Laura is still writing.
Check out the new Sarah & The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things audiobooks narrated by a series of narrators including Shirley Manson and past Lydian Spin guest Michael Imperioli. Two excerpts from the audio book are included in the episode.