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Is J.T. LeRoy a Hoax?
Status: Yes, he's a hoax
image J.T. LeRoy is either a) an extremely shy young man who, at the age of 13, while living a life of abuse and prostitution on the streets, met a psychologist who encouraged him to write down his experiences, which he did, thereby propelling him to literary stardom (now in his mid-twenties, LeRoy has three books, one of which has been made into a movie); or b) a woman in her late-thirties called Laura Albert who, for the past eleven years, has crafted an elaborate hoax to make people believe that LeRoy is a real person.

Stephen Beachy believes that option B is correct, and he lays out the reasons why in an article appearing in the current issue of New York Magazine. His basic argument goes like this: Laura Albert (aka Emily Frasier) is the woman who supposedly took LeRoy in when he was a young teenager. Beachy thinks she didn't take him in. She invented him. For years no one ever saw LeRoy. Blaming shyness, he would only talk on the phone or via email. Beachy suggests that Albert was the one doing the talking. When LeRoy finally did start to make public appearances (in 2001), he would conceal his features with a wig and sunglasses and avoid talking to people. Beachy believes the LeRoy seen in public is an actor hired by Albert. Then there's the odd fact that all of LeRoy's royalty payments go to Albert, or members of her family.

Beachy offers up plenty of other suspicious pieces of evidence, and I'm inclined to think he might be right. The biggest point in favor of LeRoy's reality is simply that it would be pretty outrageous for anyone to devise such an elaborate, and long-lasting, hoax. But then, outrageous is something hoaxers do well.

I suppose with time we'll discover the truth behind this story. My guess is that if LeRoy is a hoax, Albert will try to "kill him off" at some point when it becomes too difficult to continue the deception.

Update, January 4, 2006: Laura Barton has managed to interview JT LeRoy in person, and reports about her experience in the Guardian. She's not at all convinced that the person she interviewed really was LeRoy. She writes:

What strikes me most is the inarticulacy of LeRoy's speech. The delivery is stilted, the distinctive LeRoy vocabulary neutered. And while there is no reason for authors to be verbally articulate, I cannot find the pulse here, nor an intensity that in any way relates to the work of JT LeRoy. He seems distant, not only from our conversation, but from the work and his own argument. Much of what he says is identical to the phrases used by Albert in our telephone conversation, and it is hard to decipher whether this is LeRoy speaking Albert's words, or whether Albert was simply recycling LeRoy's. Whoever this is, sitting so sweetly beside me in the back of the car, I'm not wholly convinced it is the person who wrote the books. I would say two things with some certainty: I think it's a woman, and I think she's a real cutie pie. But whoever she is, our conversation seems cursory, a mahogany finish sprayed onto the solid wood beneath.

Update, January 9, 2006: The New York Times has revealed that the person appearing in public as LeRoy seems to be Savannah Knoop, the half-sister of Geoffrey Knoop (the guy who supposedly helped rescue the teenage LeRoy). I've posted an entry about this new evidence here.

Update, February 6, 2006: Geoffrey Knoop, the partner of Laura Albert, has admitted that Albert wrote all of JT Leroy's books. He also concedes that the face of JT Leroy, whenever Leroy made any public appearances, was his half-sister Savannah Knoop. The New York Times has quoted Geoffrey Knoop as saying: "The jig is up... I do want to apologize to people who were hurt. It got to a level I didn't expect." Knoop also says that he doubts Laura Albert will ever admit to being JT Leroy: ""For her, it's very personal. It's not a hoax. It's a part of her."
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 10, 2005
Comments (39)
More from the Hoax Museum Archives:
who cares. its complex and its odd, yes, but the book is in the fiction section of your local barnes and noble. if its true for you then its true. i'm not troubled over weather the book is true or not. from a literary stand point its interesting in both respects.
Posted by Katie T. Sullivan  in  CA  on  Fri May 26, 2006  at  06:25 PM
I absolutely hate it when authors dont use their real names.

None the less, 'The heart is decicetful' is a great book. And, no matter who wrote it, I still love the book.

Although I would feel more content if I knew who wrote the book, I am not going to die if I dont find out.

I hope that J.T. Leroy or whoever wrote that book is reading this, too. I would love it if you could come forward with who you are. I could care less if 'The heart is deceitful' is ficton or not, you are a great writer anyways.

Going into 'The heart is decietful', I did not know it was supposed to be an autobiography, and I read it as a fiction book. But, once I watched the movies and people started talking about 'The Hoax', I looked it up and researched more about it.

To me, J.T. Leroy is not a real person. But, whoever wrote the books is an amazing writer. If you watch 'The heart is decietful', you will look at some parts in the movie and wonder : "Who could have written something so great like this down?"

Not only does the movie allow unreal things to seem real (think: Meth lab scene where Jermimiah is looking at and talking to the coal), J.T. Leroy can keep you intrested in a book that obviously has no plot.
Posted by Anna  in  Atlanta  on  Sun Jun 25, 2006  at  09:25 PM
J.T. Leroy...Well, it almost harkens back to the old, "Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus."

I was hired a few years back to drive screenwriter Patti Sullivan through West Virginia, to get a feel for the terrain and the culture there. At the time Gus Van Sant was contemplating turning "Sarah" into a feature film. I spoke with the wispy voiced Mr. Leroy on the phone and introduced Ms. Sullivan to some old friends of mine, namely an herbalist, a professor of Appalacian Literature, and a cultural historian. I met celebrities at book launches, did a little writing on a play in L.A. and most importantly got paid enough to buy heating oil that winter.

There are places in J.T. Leroy's books that are very real. There are people who were moved by this work and this persona in a very real way. These writings inspired films, and influenced music and fashion. Dialogues about issues of gender, abuse, and the rich culture of Appalachia were started around the world. It appears to be fact that Leroy himself is also a fictional creation. That does not negate even one of the above influences which caused a stir internationally.

I believed there really was a J.T. Leroy. I met quite a few people amazing people through J.T. Leroy. I will continue to tell my odd tale about my association with J.T. Leroy. Lots of people still are talking about J.T. Leroy. In ancient Egypt to continue to utter the name of someone gave them immortality in the afterlife. So, how real is real? Once something is created, and discussed and debated I think it's as real as it need be. J.T. does not exist: Yet, he's changing the world.
Posted by Chris  in  PA  on  Fri Jul 06, 2007  at  10:45 AM
He's not changing it that much. The only place I've even heard about him is on this site, and I'm probably more aware of world news than the average person.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Fri Jul 06, 2007  at  11:01 AM
That's a fascinating story, Chris. I don't doubt that the J.T. Leroy character touched you in some way, but, honestly, aren't you bothered by being deceived by being told that "he" was real?

After all, many fictional characters have touched people's lives without the author pretending that they were real.

Gus Van Sant and the publishers of "J.T.'s" book certainly seem to be a wee bit bent out of shape over the deception and a jury just determined that the author engaged in fraud.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Fri Jul 06, 2007  at  05:15 PM
I'm not really at all upset at the deception. It's just another facet to an already interesting novel.

Like I said, I got to meet movie industry folks, rock stars like Shirley Manson, and head the expedition on an Appalachian adventure! Sure, there has been litigation and it only helps further the mystique. After all, there is a reason for the expression, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." The books are still fascinating and moving. The experiences I had were real for sure.

I honestly can't say I am bothered at all. It's almost more exciting to have been duped into being a peripheral part of what could be argued was the biggest literary scandal of the late 20th century, than to have been peripherally involved with a mere mysterious author.

I was introduced to some amazing folks who do exist, by someone who doesn't. I'm in no position to complain.
Posted by Chris  in  PA  on  Fri Jul 06, 2007  at  05:37 PM
Aren't actors who take screen names and assume off-screen public personae doing the same thing? Just a bit of smoke and mirrors for the audience, no? I'm sure some of us would like to know every pimply little detail about our celeb's lives, but... pssst: most of it's Bullsh!te. And Santa's dead
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Fri Jul 06, 2007  at  05:46 PM
There's a difference, though, Hairy, in that the audience knows that actors are using a stage name and actors don't pretend that the movies they appear in are reality.

I think if someone bought the J.T. Leroy book thinking that it was a inspirational true story (as they were lead to believe), they have the right to feel deceived.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sat Jul 07, 2007  at  03:17 AM
Sorry, CMG- either you missed my point, or I didn't make it very well. I'll try again: Most of us assume the stage names of showbiz folks to be real (unless their name is Meatloaf, or Ice=T, or Fiddy-Cent, etc.), and most of us believe the hype and legend surrounding their "private" lives. You buy into it, then you're part of the problem. How'd I do?
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Sat Jul 07, 2007  at  10:56 AM
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